There’s nervous and then there’s Steve Addington nervous. Sitting atop the pit box with your driver in the lead and the field lined up for a late restart can be a bit unsettling.
Addington, crew chief for Penske Racing driver Kurt Busch admits as much, saying, “I used to get so nervous that I’d want to puke …” after his driver won the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Live through the situation often enough, though, and you come to a realization.
“Now it’s out of our hands,” Addington says he told race engineer Dave Winston before Busch held off Matt Kenseth and Juan Pablo Montoya for the win. “There’s nothing we can do. We can’t control any of this stuff.”
And it’s that calming effect that could just rub off on Busch, the 31-year-old former Cup champion who hopes to contend for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series championship this season. Rub off and make a difference.
Addington coaxed Busch’s younger brother, Kyle, through 12 wins during a two-year span, so it’s not exactly his first rodeo. Trial by fire, or Busch, you might say.
Now, after four races, Addington is one up on his former team, and even he won’t say that doesn’t have a nice sound to it.
“I think if I denied that, I would be lying,” Addington said, grinning. “You know, it feels good. It honestly feels good to be with this race team, with Kurt as the driver, and come back and win before the 18 car got a chance to win. That's a personal deal.
“There's nothing against that. I'm still great friends with Kyle and everything. But it's a good feeling. It's a relief in a certain way.”
The driver and crew chief might be starting to click, but they’ve far from figured it all out. The Atlanta victory shoved Busch from 19th to 10th in the point standings, but the fact remains that he was 19th in points before the win.
A good run in California (where he finished sixth) made up for the shortcomings of Daytona (where he finished 23rd). Atlanta’s victory made the previous week’s 35th-place finish at Las Vegas a bit easier to swallow.
But … eventually that sort of back-and-forth activity will wear on a team. Always finding oneself having to make up for the previous week’s setback can take a toll. And it can make a good race team look awfully average.
And average teams don’t get very far.
“We need to have some more consistency,” Busch said. “But we've had some off‑the‑wall things happen to us. It's a good gauge of, yeah, we've been competitive three out of the four races so far this year, and the race we weren't as competitive as the others was our best finish. That's what a championship team does.
“We feel right now the right moves are being made, the right pit stops are being created. Who knows what the rest of the season has [in store]? But we look at the short-track season coming up. We’ve got Bristol, Martinsville [and] Phoenix is in the mix.”
And those are tracks where Busch has won – in fact, seven of his 21 career wins have come at the three tracks. But except for Phoenix, the series’ two shortest venues have been a bit of a struggle in recent years. At Bristol, where he has five wins, he’s managed just a pair of top-10s in his last seven starts; at Martinsville, the record shows a best finish of 17th in his last five appearances. Phoenix has been a top-five track of late, but as Busch and Addington know, they have to navigate their way through the two other minefields first.
Still, a win is something the team can build on, and with the season’s first break having finally arrived, it provides a two-week stretch to stop and catch one’s breath and feel good about what’s gone right, and to dissect what’s gone wrong.
Which, thankfully for Busch, hasn’t been a great deal.
“As a whole, I see us gaining strength, gaining momentum,” Busch said. “We now have to get through the short-track portion of our season with Martinsville, Bristol and Phoenix coming up.
“But, hey, we feel like we have a good package.”
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