Busch, crew chief take 'crash' course in communication skills

Associated Press • Apr 22, 2007 at 1:15 AM

AVONDALE, Ariz. - Next time, Kyle Busch will check with his team before leaving the racetrack.

After crashing at Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday, Busch left the track and headed to the airport. He didn't realize his crew was repairing his Chevrolet. Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped in the car and finished the race, earning Busch three NASCAR Nextel Cup points.

Busch and crew chief Alan Gustafson met this week to establish crash procedures for the team.

"We have something in place now to try to help us out that will make it easier with crash procedures," Busch said. "Alan has his crash procedures for him and the team guys built, but there has never been one built where the driver is a part of that.

"The biggest thing I learned was there has to be more communication, not only from the team to me but from myself. I didn't go to the team and ask if we were going to get back out. That is partially my problem, but we want to make sure we have it straightened out for the future."

Busch had a chance to test the procedures Friday night, when he crashed during the Busch Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. This time, the car couldn't be fixed and Busch wound up finishing 37th.

CHANGE POSSIBLE: NASCAR chairman Brian France told The Associated Press on Saturday that the decision on whether to run the Car of Tomorrow in the full Nextel Cup schedule in 2008 will be made this summer.

"In June or July, we're going to take a hard look at it," France said. "It's really up to the teams. They approved this timetable and it will be up to them if we change it."

The current schedule for the CoT is 16 races this season, 29 in 2008 and all 36 races in 2009.

But several owners have indicated they would like to run the CoT in the entire schedule next year, saving both money and the man hours it takes to build two different cars.

TOYOTA TROUBLES: Toyota officials knew the company's first season in Nextel Cup would be tough, but never dreamed it would be this difficult.

"We certainly didn't expect all seven cars to make every race, but we didn't really think it would be this bad," said Jim Aust, president of Toyota Racing Development. "Here at Phoenix, we figured we wouldn't get seven in, but we thought it would be five, not three."

With two all-new teams plus holdover Bill Davis Racing running the new Camrys, the cars haven't been very competitive - either in qualifying or in the races they have made. A 10th-place finish at California by Brian Vickers of Team Red Bull is the only top 10 for Toyota in the first seven races.

Before Saturday's race, Aust said Toyota was working on a project with one of its new teams, Michael Waltrip Racing, to rebuild a car from scratch and try to improve the overall performance.

"We've been working on this project for about three weeks," Aust said. "We took apart the car and weighed every part then put it back together. We're looking at every bolt.

"We'll take the car to the wind tunnel and, once we see we've got something better, we'll get it to all of our teams."

Aust said Toyota Racing Development in California also is working hard on improving the Cup engine.

"I think we'll see some real improvement by Charlotte (in May)," he said.

GIBBS NOT WORRIED ABOUT STEWART: J.D. Gibbs wasn't surprised to hear Tony Stewart's comments that he was considering retiring after the 2009 season.

Stewart said he was "ready to retire" after a frustrating race at Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday. He has since said he'll honor his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing, which expires after the 2009 season.

Gibbs, the president of Joe Gibbs Racing, said Saturday that Stewart's remarks did not set off alarms within the team.

"We all get fed up on occasion and want to walk away," said Gibbs, son of team owner Joe Gibbs, also the coach of the NFL Washington Redskins.

"If 2½ years from now he decides to step away, that would be his choice," J.D. Gibbs said. "But that's a long time from now. A lot can happen."

WINNING THEM OVER: Stewart's frustration last week stemmed from a crash caused by Juan Pablo Montoya. Stewart's fans naturally blamed Montoya.

But, on Saturday, Montoya may have won a few of them over.

Montoya made an appearance at a souvenir trailer outside the Phoenix track, drawing hordes of race fans. As the half-hour event ended, several Stewart fans came forward.

Montoya thanked them for coming, posed for pictures and signed their Tony Stewart gear.

DESERT JINX?: For the second year in a row, Jamie McMurray had a frustrating race in Phoenix.

McMurray, who crashed last November, woke with a stomach ache Saturday morning.

Early in the race, he dropped from seventh to 21st after an air gun malfunctioned during a pit stop. And on lap 57 he had to pull back into the pits to have debris removed from his radiator, dropping him off the lead lap.

McMurray never recovered, finishing a lap down in 23rd.

PIT STOPS: Jeff Gordon, the eventual winner, had his helmet replaced moments before the race began. Gordon's original helmet had radio problems, and a crew member brought another out to Gordon's car in the pole position. ... Montoya wasn't a factor, finishing 33rd. On lap 295, he brushed the wall. "Honestly, as the race went on we got slower and slower and slower and slower," the former Formula One star said. ... Kevin Harvick won both races at Phoenix last year. He led for 52 laps Saturday before finishing 10th. ... Gordon was the first driver to win from the pole in 22 races at Phoenix.

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