Kyle Busch Travels to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood
Native New Englander Dave Rogers has spent many special moments with his family at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, but two days in particular stick out for the crew chief who hails from nearby Marshfield, Vt.
Rogers and his father attended the inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire in 1990 as fans, but a return trip in 1992 to see the late Dale Earnhardt and Joe Nemechek battle door-to-door over the final laps is something that has stuck with him to this day.
Fast-forward to June 2008, when Rogers wasn’t in the grandstands but atop the pit box as Nationwide Series crew chief for former Joe Gibbs Racing driver Tony Stewart. That day, Stewart delivered Rogers’ first win as a crew chief at the track just a two-hour drive from where he grew up. It was an emotional day for the New Englander. Rogers’ father Davis C. Rogers was able to experience NASCAR victory lane for the first time, and Stewart, knowing what it meant to Rogers and his family, gave him the firesuit he wore that day.
Along with that Nationwide Series win as a crew chief, Rogers also visited victory lane at New Hampshire as a NASCAR Sprint Cup crew member – winning with Stewart in 2000 as his lead engineer on JGR’s No. 20 team.
Now the 38-year-old Sprint Cup crew chief for Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota for JGR, is hoping Busch can deliver another special New Hampshire moment for him and many family and friends expected to be in attendance for Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301. That’s something Rogers’ friends and family would welcome, particularly his father Davis, who remembers fondly the 1990 trip to New Hampshire with his son when the Nationwide Series made its first visit to the 1.058-mile oval.
Busch has also enjoyed plenty of success at the “Magic Mile” throughout his career, having scored a Sprint Cup Series win in July 2006 among his six top-10 finishes in 16 starts. He’s also scored three wins, one pole and four top-five results in seven Nationwide Series starts at Loudon to go along with three wins, one pole and six top-10 finishes in seven NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races.
In keeping with the family theme this weekend, Busch and Rogers would like nothing more than to celebrate in victory lane with many families that are Interstate Batteries dealers and distributors from New England and across the country.
With the marathon-like 36-race Sprint Cup Series schedule, Busch and Rogers don’t have much time to attend many, if any, family reunions. But, they’ve had Sunday circled on their calendar in hopes of bringing the celebration to them in victory lane in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Kyle Busch, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What do you think about the upcoming New Hampshire race?
“Loudon is tricky for me. For some reason, I never figured it out with our last car. With the COY as I called it (car of yesteryear), we were pretty decent there, so I’m hoping that our 2013 Toyota Camry has some of the same characteristics there like that car did. I remember 2006, I think, one of the last races we ran with the COY – I won that one. So, it’s been one of those places that’s just kind of tricky, sometimes, to figure out for me – just the flatness of the corners, how hard do you get into the corner, how much brake do you use, how much do you let the car roll, how hard to get back on the gas – there’s so many different things you’ve got to work through at Loudon. I’ve got one of the best teammates in the business to help me with that with Denny (Hamlin). I definitely use him a lot when we go there on those weekends. We were fast there both races last year but had issues both times that kept us out of the running for the win. We’d certainly like to get up in the top-five and contend for better finishes at Loudon with our Interstate Batteries Camry. I know that place is pretty special to Dave (Rogers) and his family, so I’m hoping for we can deliver for him this weekend.”
Do you approach Loudon as a speedway or a short-track race?
“Loudon is definitely a short-track race. It’s a lot like Phoenix. You have some good speed down the straightaway, but definitely a lot of braking getting through the tight, paperclip-shaped corners.”
The New Hampshire race is one of the shortest on the circuit. How do you approach that race knowing you might have a little less time to get to the front at the end?
“Essentially, at Loudon, you’re looking at how good your fuel mileage is and you have to look at when you have to make your last pit stop since that’s what everyone looks at. You end up running it almost like a road-course race because you do want to be the first guy on the last round of pit stops to pit. You want to get in there, get your tires and fuel, and then stay out the rest of the race and keep your track position since it’s so important there. It’s just a challenging race because it is so hard to pass there. You can’t be two-tenths faster than a guy and be able to pass him because everyone typically runs the same speed. You’ll have it where the leader might be a tenth better than the second-place guy, but everyone is separated by so little that it takes a mistake on someone’s part in order to pass them there.”
When you make a mistake at Loudon, does it cost you a little bit more because you have less time to recover?
“You don’t because you’re always on edge there. You’re trying to go as fast as you can into the corners, as deep as you can into the corners while rolling as much speed, or just a bit higher than everyone else so you are able to get back to the gas sooner. You’re going harder than everyone else in order to make the straightaway a little bit longer and get your momentum built back up. It’s definitely a challenging racetrack – not one of my best racetracks, I’ll admit that. I have won there in the past so, if we get a good car, I guess I’ll need to have a really good car, apparently. Then we might have a shot to win there.”
Dave Rogers, Crew Chief of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
As a native New Englander, New Hampshire has always been a homecoming race for you and a track where you won in the Nationwide Series in 2008. What does New Hampshire Motor Speedway mean to you?
“There are a lot of memories there. I love going back to the Northeast, but I also like to go back there and race. It’s very exciting for my entire family. My boys are old enough to where they can fly up on the JGR plane with me and hang out with my family and friends from up there, so it’s just a really neat experience all around when we get to race at New Hampshire and I’m hoping we can get our Interstate Batteries Toyota to victory lane to make things even better.”
When was your first trip to New Hampshire? Was it as a fan?
“I was there for the inaugural Nationwide Series race (in 1990). The first four years that the Nationwide Series raced at New Hampshire, we were there. I was also there for the inaugural Cup Series race at the track. The one race I remember like it was yesterday was when Joe Nemechek and Dale Earnhardt Sr., raced door-to-door for the last few laps and put on a great show for the fans. I don’t remember exactly what year that was (1992) but it was a long time ago.”
You won the 2008 Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire as a crew chief for Tony Stewart. What did that mean to you to go to victory lane that day?
“We went to inaugural Nationwide Series race there and we sat in the stands as fans and had a great time as a family. Then you go to 2008 and you go there as a crewmember and my father was there and you get to go to victory lane and share that experience with him. That was special. I think it was the first time my Dad had ever been to victory lane for a NASCAR race. It was really exciting and very emotional. We got that win with Tony Stewart, who is a good friend of mine. Tony made it really special for me. He gave me the firesuit after the race and congratulated my whole family, so it meant quite a bit to me and to my entire family.”
When was your first trip to New Hampshire working on a NASCAR team?
“The 1999 Cup Series race with the 20 car was my first race back to Loudon as part of a team. It was Tony’s (Stewart) first Cup race there, as well. That was the first time I worked on a car as part of a team at Loudon.”
Was there anyone back home in Marshfield, Vt., who helped you become who you are today?
“I’ve been blessed enough to be surrounded by great people my whole life. I look up to my dad more than anybody. He wasn’t really big into racing, but I see a lot of his personality in me. He taught me to never quit or give up, to never be satisfied with second. That motivates me. He’ll be at the race with us again this weekend and that will be a lot of fun. I had some great teachers at Twinfield High School (in Plainfield, Vt.) – some great people who just really taught me and my classmates about what the books say, but also how to be a respectful person. I had some really great leadership from up that way and, hopefully, they’ll be watching.”