RICHMOND, VA. — — Georgetown University guard Fred Brown absent-mindedly threw a pass to North Carolina's James Worthy in the NCAA men's basketball championship game 30 years ago and handed the Tar Heels a championship. Hoyas' coach John Thompson never wavered in his faith in Brown and two years later the story ended in a national championship bear hug.
Whether driver Kyle Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers share a Sprint Cup Series championship bro-hug remains to be seen. They won't get a chance this season, in large part because Rogers' call that Busch not pit during a rain caution at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday began a slide that ended in Busch not making the Chase.
So, for now Joe Gibbs Racing's M&M's team must deal with pain and bewilderment as they watch Jeff Gordon ride off following the Federated Auto Parts 400 with the 12th and final Chase spot that, for almost three-quarters of the race, surely seemed theirs. Early returns are that they'll follow the lead of Gibbs and handle it with character.
"We love Dave Rogers," Gibbs said. "I've got to tell you I think he's one of the brightest and the best. I'm not going to share what I said to anybody, it's just that we were there, we were sharing the moment together, we were in this together and I think we have a great, tight-knit team here."
Rogers said, "The Chase is more than one race, but we were certainly in a position to capitalize and make it, but that call, I blew it.
"There's no two ways to look at it. I'm pretty honest. I evaluate myself as hard as I evaluate my guys and I gave one up today."
Busch entered Saturday's race at RIR 12 points ahead of Gordon in what essentially became a two-man battle for the final wild-card spot into the Chase, NASCAR's 10-race playoff.
For the first 276 laps of a rain-plagued event that had been delayed twice for a total of more than 2 1/2 hours, Busch was in control of the wild-card position. After starting 18th, Busch ran in or near the top 10 much of the night, while Gordon, who started second, dealt with handling issues and struggled to stay in the top 20.
Gordon's Chevrolet got a little better drive following a big move by his crew: Cutting the chain on the sway bar around the lap 152 rain delay. But as the race progressed, Busch, with 12 positions to give, needed only to maintain close proximity unless Gordon were to challenge for the win.
Which made Rogers' call not to pit during the rain caution that began with lap 277 all the more curious. Rogers was gambling that the race might be called because of rain, and Busch was fourth as the restart approached at lap 283.
But why not pit when it became clear the race would restart, especially when so many others, Gordon included, had pitted for fresh tires and adjustments? As noted, Busch, who reportedly urged a trip to pit road, had room to give up some spots.
The folly of the decision became clear immediately after the restart, as Busch, driving on worn tires, sunk through the field like a stone, was soon lapped and nearly out of the top 20. A poor pit stop under green, during which his tire changer missed a lug nut, put him well out of the top 20 and three laps behind.
Eventually Busch made up enough ground to finish 16th. It took a charge through the field by Gordon's improving car, all the way to second at the finish, for him to secure a narrow three-point margin over Busch for the final Chase spot.
Gordon's pronouncement during the lap 152 rain delay — "We missed it" — was now Busch's lament.
"We missed it," Busch said. "That's it. Plain and simple. There's no right way to handle it."
Faith and trust, a la Brown and Thompson, tenets that Gibbs preaches, might be the best way.
"He (Joe Gibbs) knows how to call them," Rogers said. "He knows how to win them. He's lost them before.
"So, he shared some of his failures and some of his successes with me and gave me some words of encouragement, then we talked about how we could get better.
"The goal is to get better every time (and) turn a negative into a positive."
12 Chase drivers
Denny Hamlin, 2,012 points, 4 wins
Jimmie Johnson, 2,009 points, 3 wins
Tony Stewart, 2,009 points, 3 wins
Brad Keselowski, 2,009 points, 3 wins
Greg Biffle, 2,006 points, 2 wins
Clint Bowyer, 2,006 poins, 2 wins
Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,003 points, 1 win
Matt Kenseth, 2,003 points, 1 win
Kevin Harvick, 2,000 points, 0 wins
Martin Truex Jr., 2,000 points, 0 wins
Kasey Kahne, 2,000 points, 2 wins
Jeff Gordon, 2,000 points, 1 win