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Kurt Busch latest to win with substitute crew chief

Kurt Busch drove to victory lane on Monday in the Axalta 400 at Pocono Raceway, but crew chief Tony Gibson was missing in action after being suspended under NASCAR's lug nut policy.

Kurt Busch’s win Monday at Pocono Raceway earned him admittance to a fairly exclusive club.

Busch is now only the fourth driver in the last 10 years that has won a Sprint Cup race with a substitute crew chief. Due to his suspension for violating NASCAR’s lugnut policy, crew chief Tony Gibson was forced to spend the weekend back home.

In his place was first time crew chief Johnny Klausmeier, who normally serves as the team’s engineer.

“His voice was way more calming than Gibson,” Busch said. “When you have an engineer calculating your fuel, I mean, it’s a calculator. I know Gibson can do it just the same, but when you have a new guy or somebody different and you’re not at your full strength, there’s something that happens to everybody on the team. Everybody pulls harder.”

Klausmeier’s win was the first by a substitute crew chief since the 2013 Southern 500, when Matt Kenseth won with Wally Brown in place of Jason Ratcliff. Ratcliff was absent that day due to a suspension for an underweight connecting rod as Brown won his first Sprint Cup race as a crew chief.

“This to me probably feels bigger than any win in my career,” Kenseth said at the time. “I really feel bad that Jason isn’t here. This is obviously his team and his effort, but Wally did a great job filling in.”

Unlike Busch’s victory, that was the third of seven wins for Kenseth in 2013. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has gone to victory lane twice in the last 10 years with a substitute crew chief. The first time was in 2007 at Auto Club Speedway. Then with Roush Fenway Racing, Kenseth won with Chip Bolin on the pit box instead of Robbie Reiser.

Reiser was serving a four-race suspension for illegal alterations to Kenseth’s car before qualifying for the Daytona 500.

In 2008, it was Reiser’s turn to be the substitute. Reiser substituted for Bob Osborne on the car of Carl Edwards at Texas Motor Speedway while Osborne served a six-race suspension stemming from violations in the Daytona 500.

Then in 2010, Clint Bowyer won at Talladega Superpeedway with scott Miller on his pit box instead of Shane Wilson, who was serving a four-race suspension for a height violation found on Bowyer’s car six races earlier at New Hampshire.

Last weekend was the first Gibson has missed outright since becoming crew chief for Busch at the end of 2014. Gibson missed a couple of days at Texas in April to take care of his sick wife. Last September, Gibson was at New Hampshire just days after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. Early in 2015, Gibson didn’t return to the pits after a rain delay at Bristol after passing his second kidney stone in 33 days.

Said Busch, “Everybody digs in a little bit deeper, and not having Tony Gibson here today, I know everybody gave that much more, and this is a win for Gibson.”

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