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DOVER, Del. -- New pit crew, but same old problem for Kurt Busch.
Furniture Row Racing revamped its over-the-wall squad before Sunday's event at Dover International Speedway, hoping to put an end to the pit road problems that have hampered Busch's effort in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. And yet, a loose right rear wheel forced the No. 78 car to make an extra pit stop that put it two laps down, and long green-flag runs from there on out saddled Busch with a 21st-place result.
It was a crushing result for the Denver-based single-car organization, which is in the playoff for the first time, and came to the Monster Mile needing to gain ground after suffering a broken jack in the previous event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Instead Busch was the second-lowest finisher among the 13 Chase drivers, ahead of only Carl Edwards, who was 35th with a broken hub.
"Nothing went our way today," Busch said. "This is the Chase, and you can't afford to have these problems. We need to regroup and get it together for Kansas next week."
"You do all you can do," added Todd Berrier, crew chief on the No. 78 car. "I'm going to sleep tonight knowing that we did what we were supposed to do. We made changes, we did what we needed. I guess if we'd had not changed anything and had the same outcome, it would have been worse on the guys that we changed it to, right? It's no-win. You make mistakes, and they bite you. You can't make mistakes doing this and expect to win. We've made a lot of mistakes all year. We haven't won because of them. When we quit making mistakes, we'll learn how to win. But until then, there's not a whole lot we can do about it."
At ninth in the standings and 55 points behind leader Matt Kenseth, Busch is in a tenuous position. Furniture Row has been beset with issues on pit road this season, one major reason Busch has been unable to reach Victory Lane with the team. Before the Chase opener at Chicagoland, the team began using front tire changer Matt Humphries from Brian Scott's No. 2 Nationwide Series program at Richard Childress Racing, with whom Furniture Row shares a technical alliance.
Following a 13th-place result at New Hampshire, the No. 78 team brought in four more Nationwide crewmen from RCR -- front tire carrier Thad Wymer, rear tire changer Jake Lind and jack man Brian Gainey from Scott's team, and rear tire carrier Josh Sobecki from the No. 3 Nationwide program of driver Austin Dillon. Gas man Milan Rudanovic, who joined the No. 78 squad in the spring, remained in his position.
Sunday, the revamped pit crew turned competitive times -- but it was the one major error that did them in, exacerbated by a lack of cautions that denied Busch a chance to work his way back to the front.
"A loose wheel did us in," said Busch, who finished fourth in the Chase opener at Chicagoland. "We were way off at the start, but after the first pit stop we made some good changes to the car and started to make a move. But once again we had an issue with a loose wheel and that put us a couple of laps down. And with the lack of cautions we couldn't make it up."
Berrier estimated it was the third loose wheel the No. 78 car has suffered this season. Busch was denied a chance to win the all-star exhibition because his final pit stop was a tick too slow, and was later knocked out of a race at Bristol because of a wheel problem.
"The wheel's loose. Call it what you want. Blame it on what you want," Berrier said. "You're pointing your fingers, and you've got four pointing back. At the end of the day the wheel was loose, and you had to pit. We can sit here and blame it on whoever you want, but the wheel is loose. There's 42 more cars in the race. They all have opportunities to have loose wheels. ? I can bad mouth the people that work on it, or I cant."
Busch wasn't the only driver who saw his Chase hopes severely compromised on Sunday. Kasey Kahne, a two-time winner this season, stayed mired in last among the championship contenders after his No. 5 car lost power. Although Kahne rallied to finish 13th, his Dover issue combined with last week's crash at New Hampshire left him a distant 78 points behind Kenseth.
Also staring up at much of the field is Edwards, another two-time winner who stood high in the points for almost all of the regular season, but is now in 11th place and 65 points off the lead after breaking a wheel hub Sunday. The Dover issue almost doubled the deficit faced by a driver who came to the Delaware capital 36 points off the pace.
"We've really got to step it up now to have a chance," Edwards said. "We did not need to have that trouble, but there's a lot of racing left. We don't quit. We just have to keep moving."
So will Busch, who is leaving for a fourth car at Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of this season. The last two weeks have been a bitter pill for an organization that's shown speed all year, and looked as strong as any other in the waning weeks of the regular season. The crew chief of the No. 78 car didn't sound as if any more changes to the team's pit crew were immediate.
"What race number are we on?" Berrier asked. Told Dover was the 29th points event of the season, he responded, "We gave the other guys 28. There's no nice way to put it. It is what it is."
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