The conversation at Kyle and Samantha Busch’s house lasted for a couple of hours.
Adam Stevens remembers the Busch’s inviting him over. He remembers that, mixed in with the general racing talk, were the serious issues that needed addressing. It was 2014, and a successful relationship between Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers had run its course — and an unsuspecting Stevens had become the next man up.
At the house that day, the group discussed whether Stevens thought he was the right fit as Busch’s crew chief. Did the Busch’s feel the same way about Stevens? How were they going to get along? How would they operate together?
At the time, Stevens was calling the shots for Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 54 Toyota in the Xfinity Series. He and Busch were no strangers to each other. Busch drove the car in 26 of the season’s 33 races, and the duo would run 52 Xfinity Series races together by the end of the 2013-14 seasons, with 19 trips to victory lane.
Life was good for the then 35-year-old Ohio University graduate. Stevens was happy competing and winning in the Xfinity Series. The schedule gave him Sundays at home with his family. Being Busch’s crew chief in the NASCAR Cup Series was not on his radar.
Joe Gibbs, the late J.D. Gibbs, and Todd Meredith, the team’s former chief operating officer, had other plans.
“They didn’t ask me,” Stevens tells RACER with a laugh. “I mean, they did eventually, but before they had that inkling, there was no, ‘Let’s go see what Adam thinks’, because I’m not sure Adam would have said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll do it. Whatever.'”
Stevens also remembers being a little surprised when he got a “pretty good heads up” that Busch and Rogers would be separating. It was about April when he eventually went home to tell his wife Aubrey that the job of being Busch’s crew chief was his if he wanted it. In December, Gibbs made the news official: Stevens and Busch would be paired together beginning with the ’15 season.
Five years after that gathering at the Busch household, Busch and Stevens are two-time series champions. Together, they’ve won 27 times, and the No. 18 Toyota Camry has qualified for the Championship 4 every year since Stevens began working on it.
Told that his numbers as a Cup Series crew chief are phenomenal, Stevens jumps in with a question.
“Are they?” he asks. Success of this magnitude was something Stevens says he could not have comprehended when the decision was made that he was the guy for Busch.
“We have all the tools at our disposal to win races, so I’m not surprised we’ve won that many races,” says Stevens. “If it wasn’t me in this chair, it would be somebody else because the team is that good, Kyle is that good, and Joe Gibbs Racing is that good.”
NO CHEERLEADERS ALLOWED
Samantha Busch has watched her husband work with other great crew chiefs. In his early tenure at JGR, Steve Addington and Dave Rogers both guided Busch to victories. But there have been more races won with Stevens.
“Astronomical” is how Samantha finishes the sentence concerning the numbers Stevens has put up as her husband’s crew chief.
Busch and Stevens are very alike. According to Samantha, they have similar mannerisms; similar routines. They see the world the same way. Both would admit their hobbies are “racing, racing, racing,” and they are perfectionists. The two balance each other out, and like Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus back in the day, there’s just something about Busch and Stevens that clicked.
If Busch is in a bad mood, or concentrating, others might start poking about what’s wrong. Stevens lets him be and wants to know about the car. If Stevens is quiet, Busch isn’t going to press him on what’s wrong.
“They know how to focus on the car, how to read each other, how to talk to each other, and that’s what makes them an amazing team,” says Samantha to RACER.