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No. 48 Sprint Cup team loses practice time for Kansas
The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team of Jimmie Johnson will lose 15 minutes of practice time this week at Kansas Speedway after NASCAR posted penalties coming out of Talladega weekend. The No. 48 team failed template inspection three times during pre-race for Sunday's GEICO 500 . NASCAR also gave written warnings to the No. 44 Richard Petty Motorsports team of Brian Scott and the No. 98 Premium Motorsports team of Cole Whitt , each for two failed pre-race inspections. In the XFINITY Series, NASCAR docked the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team of Ty Dillon 15 minutes of practice time for failing laser inspection three times. The Nos. 0 ( Garrett Smithley ), 4 ( Ross Chastain ), 28 ( Dakoda Armstrong ), 43 ( Jeb Burton ), 70 ( Derrike Cope ) and 85 ( Bobby Gerhart ) teams all received written warnings for failing laser inspection twice.
Bruce, Cain reveal NASCAR Hall of Fame ballots
RELATED: Photos of Voting Day, inductees NASCAR.com was privileged to have two ballots cast as part of NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Day on Wednesday. Senior writers Kenny Bruce and Holly Cain each submitted their five nominations for induction in the Class of 2017 and a vote for the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. A spirited discussion and voting process created one of the most intriguing classes in the stock-car shrine's history with Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons selected as Hall of Fame members. Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles received the Landmark Award. Here are Holly's and Kenny's ballots cast Wednesday with their choices for induction: Kenny Bruce Ron Hornaday Jr. No one dominated NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series like Hornaday, the only four-time series champ. He remains the leader in career wins, top-five and top-10 finishes in Truck Series history. Mark Martin. The working man's racer; Martin finished second in the premier series points battle five times and earned 40 wins in 882 career starts. His XFINITY Series record wasn't too shabby, either. Benny Parsons. Folks who knew Benny the Broadcaster might not know just how talented Parsons was behind the wheel of a race car. The 1973 premier series champion, Parsons won 21 times, including victories in the Daytona 500 (1975) and World 600 ('80). Raymond Parks. The Atlanta-based businessman not only provided much-needed financial assistance as the newly formed NASCAR governing body got up and running, but Parks was a successful car owner as well. His career as an owner peaked in 1949 when driver Red Byron won NASCAR's first Strictly Stock crown. A year earlier, Byron had won the group's first Modified title in a Parks-backed entry. Robert Yates. As an engine builder, Yates helped power Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough to 77 victories. As a car owner, his drivers won three Daytona 500 titles, 57 races and 48 poles. Landmark Award H. Clay Earles. His Martinsville Speedway was there from the beginning (actually before NASCAR was formed) and it remains a popular stop today as one of three short tracks on the premier series schedule. Keeping up with the changing landscape of the sport wasn't easy, and no one did it better than Mr. Earles. Holly Cain These are the Hall of Fame votes I considered the most worthy and timely, considering a ballot of 20 of the sport's most deserving people. I tried to decide on a well-balanced group of drivers, owners and technical people and considered time on the ballot, too. Some I did not vote for this year I feel like will be definite choices in the upcoming Hall of Fame votes. Red Byron. NASCAR's first champion should be in its Hall of Fame for historic reasons. He won NASCAR's very first race on Daytona Beach in 1948, won NASCAR's first "season" championship and then its first Strictly Stock title, which is the modern era Sprint Cup crown. Raymond Parks . He owned the first championship car driven by Red Byron and for many of the same reasons Bryon needs to be in the Hall, so does Parks. Even after the two early titles he fielded cars for greats such as Bob and Fonty Flock. He is the sport's heritage, its beginning. Benny Parsons . Many current NASCAR fans know Benny from his ease and skill behind the television microphone and camera once he retired from driving a race car, but he was an amazing competitor, too, winning NASCAR's two biggest trophies -- the 1973 Cup championship and the 1975 Daytona 500 . Perhaps most amazingly, he finished among the top 10 in 54 percent of the races he ran. Waddell Wilson. It is impressive Wilson was so successful both as an engine builder and a crew chief. He built the motors that David Pearson and Benny Parsons drove to titles and as a crew chief led Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough (twice) to Daytona 500 wins. He built the first engine that broke 200 mph -- driven by Parsons in qualifying for the 1982 Winston 500. Robert Yates. This is another example of the ultimate in successful multi-tasking. Similar to Wilson, he built championship-quality engines (1983 with Bobby Allison) and then Yates owned a championship team, fielding the car with which Dale Jarrett won a title in 1999. He owns three Daytona 500 wins as part of a 57-win legacy as a team owner and won 77 races as an engine builder. Landmark Award Ralph Seagraves. This was a tough category. My selection was based on his contribution really being a turning point for the entire sport. Under Seagraves' leadership, RJ Reynolds provided top-dollar, high-promotion sponsorship of the sport that lasted for more than 30 years. It thrust NASCAR into another stratosphere as far as the American sports landscape was concerned and absolutely created a foundation that is still enjoyed today.
Hall of Fame preview: Mark Martin among contenders
RELATED: Meet 2017's nominees " Live stream of reveal, 5 p.m. ET Mark Martin will be one of 20 people considered for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame when the Voting Panel convenes in Charlotte on Wednesday to determine the 2017 class. (TV coverage: NBCSN, 5 p.m. ET) Three of those on the ballot are former premier series champions -- Red Byron, NASCAR's first Strictly Stock champion in 1949; Benny Parsons, the 1973 winner who went on to enjoy a successful second career in the broadcast booth; and Alan Kulwicki, killed in a plane crash just four-and-a-half months after capturing the 1992 crown. There was no championship trophy for Martin, who retired from competition at the end of the 2013 season. But that doesn't diminish the accomplishments the Batesville, Arkansas, native garnered during a career that spanned more than three decades. Martin, 57, won 40 times in the premier series, with victories coming at 21 different tracks. He finished 10th or better 453 times, in more than half of his 882 career starts. He also won 56 poles. RELATED: Live stream, 5 p.m. ET, Wednesday In the battle for the championship, Martin placed second five times, a mark he shares with current Hall of Fame member Bobby Allison, and he scored 17 top-10 points finishes during his career. "It makes me proud I was able to be as successful as I was and grateful for the opportunities I had," Martin told Little Rock, Arkansas, radio station KABZ-FM recently. "To be real honest I didn't enjoy a … significant part of my career because I was trying so hard to get that championship because I wanted it, and even more than that, the people who supported me wanted it for me so badly. I saw time running out. "I spent too much of my time focused on that and not enjoying the opportunities I had. Today, when I look back on it I wish I hadn't done that." Martin lost the 1990 title by 26 points to Dale Earnhardt and finished second to the Richard Childress Racing driver again four years later. Other runner-up finishes through the years came against Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson . "My life would not be different one bit had I won one of those or not," Martin said. "I had a great career. … I don't think it would have changed a thing in my life had I won one of those trophies. I was very close. I got beat by only four of the greatest of all time in NASCAR in my opinion. … "I'm not embarrassed." Earnhardt was one of five members inducted into the Hall’s inaugural class in 2010. Gordon, a four-time series champion with 93 career victories, retired from driving at the end of 2015 and won't be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration until 2018 and possible induction until '19. Stewart, winner of three premier series titles and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing , will cease to compete full time in the series following the 2016 season. Johnson is a six-time champion and boasts 77 career wins, including two thus far this season. In addition to his premier series exploits, Martin held the XFINITY Series record for career wins for 14 years and is also a seven-time winner in the Camping World Truck Series. It is his second consecutive appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot. First-year nominees for the 2017 ballot are former Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr ., team co-owner Jack Roush, driver Ricky Rudd, noted crew chief and engine builder Waddell Wilson and broadcaster Ken Squier. Rounding out the list of nominees are Buddy Baker, Richard Childress, Ray Evernham, Ray Fox, Rick Hendrick, Harry Hyde, Hershel McGriff, Raymond Parks, Larry Phillips, Mike Stefanik and Robert Yates. Also to be determined by the Voting Panel is the 2017 recipient of the Landmark Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to NASCAR. The five nominees are Martinsville Speedway track founder H. Clay Earles, driver Janet Guthrie, team owner Raymond Parks, former RJ Reynolds executive Ralph Seagraves and Squier. The Voting Panel is scheduled to begin the selection process Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. ET at the Charlotte Convention Center. The announcement of those chosen will take place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Great Hall (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN). NASCAR.com will also live stream the event: You can watch it live here.
Cobb, John Hunter Nemechek lead 'Dega practices
Practice 2 recap " Practice 2 results Jennifer Jo Cobb led the final Camping World Truck Series practice at Talladega Superspeedway on Friday, putting up a high speed of 182.965 mph on Lap 9 out of 11. This is Cobb's fifth start at the famous 2.5-mile superspeedway and she is without a pole in her Truck Series career. Coming up short to Cobb was Austin Hill at 182.954 mph. Terry Jones, (182.954 mph), Bobby Gerhart (182.926 mph) and past Talladega winner Johnny Sauter (182.762 mph) round out the top-five fastest on the leaderboard. Timothy Peters is the defending race winner at the track and was 11th-fastest in the closing practice. The Red Horse Racing driver was third-fastest in the first session. Eighteen-year-old John Hunter Nemechek led the series' opening session on Friday, but did not come out for the second session. There was one caution brought out in the final minutes of practice for fluid on the track. The Camping World Truck Series returns to the track tomorrow for Keystone Light Pole Qualifying at 10:30 a.m. ET (FS1). The fred's 250 presented by Coca-Cola begins Saturday at 1 p.m. ET (FOX). Practice 1 recap " Practice 1 results John Hunter Nemechek led the opening Camping World Truck Series practice at Talladega Superspeedway on Friday, notching a top speed of 191.608 mph on his 15th lap out of 21 total. This is the 18-year-old driver's first start at the Alabama track. John Wes Townley came up short to Nemechek, and was second-fastest at 191.604 mph. Defending race winner Timothy Peters was third-fastest at 191.528 mph. Truck Series points leader Erik Jones (190.189 mph) and Ben Kennedy (188.947 mph) round out the top-five fastest on the leaderboard. One caution came out during the 55-minute practice for debris on the track. Aside from Peters, the only other past Talladega winner in the field is Johnny Sauter who was seventh-fastest (188.907 mph) in the opening session. The Camping World Truck Series returns to the track today at 3 p.m. ET for final practice before Saturday's Keystone Light Pole Qualifying at 10:30 a.m. ET (FOX Sports 1). The series' fred's 250 presented by Coca-Cola begins Saturday at 1 p.m. ET (FOX).
XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 starting lineup
See where every driver will start Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN Pos Car Driver Team Time 1 18 Daniel Suarez # ARRIS Toyota 49.929 2 2 Brian Scott Shore Lodge Chevrolet 50.048 3 20 David Ragan (i) Interstate Batteries Toyota 50.140 4 22 Joey Logano (i) Discount Tire Ford 50.164 5 54 Erik Jones (i) Monster Energy Toyota 50.193 6 3 Ty Dillon Yuengling America's Oldest Brewery Chevrolet 50.242 7 33 Austin Dillon (i) Rheem Chevrolet 50.243 8 16 Ryan Reed Lilly/American Diabetes Association Ford 50.351 9 62 Brendan Gaughan South Point Chevrolet 50.381 10 1 Elliott Sadler OneMain Financial Ford 50.398 11 9 Chase Elliott NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet 50.446 12 15 Scott Lagasse Jr. Florida DOT Chevrolet 50.454 13 60 Chris Buescher Bit-O-Honey Ford 50.286 14 6 Darrell Wallace Jr . # Cheez-It Ford 50.302 15 7 Regan Smith Fire Alarm Services Chevrolet 50.306 16 42 Brennan Poole DC Solar Chevrolet 50.395 17 43 Dakoda Armstrong WinField Ford 50.412 18 26 Timmy Hill (i) JGL Racing Toyota 50.497 19 98 Aric Almirola (i) Fresh from Florida Ford 50.541 20 66 Benny Gordon SomersetRegionalWaterResources Chevrolet 50.599 21 88 Kasey Kahne (i) Ragu Chevrolet 50.692 22 8 Blake Koch Celsius Healthy Energy Cola Toyota 50.692 23 25 John Wes Townley (i) Zaxby's Chevrolet 50.699 24 01 Landon Cassill Flex Seal Chevrolet 50.712 25 44 David Starr Zachry Toyota 50.767 26 85 Bobby Gerhart Lucas Oil Chevrolet 50.799 27 92 Dexter Bean CrashClaimsR.us Chevrolet 50.878 28 28 JJ Yeley Texas 28 Spirits Stage Toyota 50.888 29 89 Morgan Shepherd Courtney Construction Chevrolet 51.007 30 90 Martin Roy Gamache Truck Center Chevrolet 51.038 31 74 Mike Harmon FatBobsGarage.com Dodge 51.056 32 39 Ryan Sieg Uncle Bob's Self Storage Chevrolet 51.135 33 70 Derrike Cope EvergreenFabrication&IndustrialServices Chev 51.148 34 4 Ross Chastain # Flex Shot Chevrolet Owner Points 35 0 Harrison Rhodes # Flex Seal Colors Chevrolet Owner Points 36 51 Jeremy Clements RepairableVehicles.com/BRTExtrusions Chev Owner Points 37 14 Cale Conley # IAVA Toyota Owner Points 38 52 Joey Gase FaithofourFathers/SupportMilitary.org Chev Owner Points 39 24 Eric McClure Hefty Easy Grip Cups Toyota Owner Points 40 97 Peyton Sellers # Vroom Brands Chevrolet Owner Points
Pursuing NASCAR's triple crown intrigues Bobby Labonte
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Bobby Labonte quietly bowed out of full-time Sprint Cup Series competition at the tail end of the 2013 season. No retirement tour, no gifts. Certainly no ponies. The 2000 premier series champion has selectively dabbled in the sport since, however, with a handful of unremarkable starts at Indianapolis and the restrictor-plate tracks, knowing the pack racing may be his last remaining shot at picking up his first -- and likely final -- Cup victory in more than a decade. Labonte will run in Sunday's GEICO 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Talladega Superspeedway , his second of a scheduled four-race slate in 2016. While not sure if this same type of deal will continue to be available to him in future years, the brother of NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte hinted at an interestingly hush-hush opportunity that could be coming down the pipeline later on this season. "I do have a couple other possibilities I am excited about that might come to fruition later on in the year that I didn't see coming around the corner but they are opportunities that might lead to something that I have been more excited about than anything I have done in my career," Labonte said Friday at Talladega. "Racing is still a big passion of mine and I know I am not going to go do a lot of things I used to do but there are still some opportunities out there that are still up on my radar that I would like to do." But what does he have left to prove? What racing goals remain? "That is a great question, too. Winning any race. It might be a bicycle race. Racing at the Sprint Cup level has gotten so intense that if you can't do it every weekend … (Talladega) is different as we all know. Last weekend and next weekend is different than here," Labonte said. "It is one of those things that I guess I kind of want to race more in a way but I don't want to race more in some ways. I don't want to do it every weekend but I know there are different series you can do that aren’t quite as strenuous as this. "My brother told me one time after about two years of retirement, 'You know, you will have a lot more friends later that you didn't know you had.' And that is true. I am enjoying that. As far as racing goes I am enjoying it and my opportunity is only four times right now through a little bit of what I want to do and a little bit from other people." One remaining goal is obvious: becoming NASCAR's first Triple Crown winner by notching a championship at each of its three national series levels. Labonte has the two arguably tougher feats down, winning the XFINITY Series (then Busch Grand National) title by 74 points over Kenny Wallace in 1991, then taking his first and only Sprint Cup Series (then Winston Cup) title by a wide, 265-point margin over Dale Earnhardt in 2000. It's a long shot, and Labonte admits that "everything has to line up right," but he's at least considered the prospect of running for a Camping World Truck Series title. He has 10 career starts in the series, with one win (2005 at Martinsville). "It is absolutely something that we have talked about and met with some people about," Labonte said. "I couldn't just make it happen by snapping my fingers and we couldn’t quite get it all lined up. I definitely had it in my mind that it was something I really wanted to do. I would still entertain that but there is also a point where if you can chase the championship that is one thing, and you can do it in a lot of ways. "When I started racing when I was little, the passion was to race and win and that is what you want to do. You want the chance to do that. We did it back then and I think the Truck Series is very appealing to me. I loved it when I did a few of them for a couple of guys and won a race and finished in the top five quite a bit. It is definitely a different level and the garage area is a lot calmer there than it is in the Sprint Cup Series and it kind of, at this point in time, is very appealing."
Gerhart , BKR duo top Daytona NNS, Truck practices
Joe Gibbs Racing, Gerhart lead NNS practices, Reddick, Blaney fast in trucks
1987 Winston: Where Are They Now?
RELATED: Elliott will 'never forget' Earnhardt move The starting grid for the 1987 Winston All-Star Race looked a lot like an exhibit befitting the NASCAR Hall of Fame. This was The All-Star Race for the ages. Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Bill Elliott all competed. Greats such as Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Ricky Rudd, Buddy Baker, and Benny Parsons were on the 20-driver starting grid, too. A young Davey Allison and a new Daytona 500 winner Geoffrey Bodine lined up alongside these iconic names. The fast and famed Tim Richmond was on the grid, too, in what was his final season of NASCAR competition. And don't forget about Kyle Petty, Bobby Hillin Jr. and Greg Sacks. The only driver on that famed All-Star lineup still NASCAR racing today is Morgan Shepherd, who drove a car fielded by drag racing legend Kenny Bernstein -- and his seventh-place finish that day in his first All-Star Race remains his best showing. That starting lineup was a true convergence of NASCAR's best -- sentimental favorites, crusty veterans, future Hall of Famers and young stars out to make their big names. It had personality. It had top-line credentials. In only its third running, the 1987 race showed exactly the pizzazz that would help forge the All-Star Race into the can't-miss annual event that will be on full display Saturday in the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway . For all its historical allure, amazingly in that famed 1987 race only four drivers even led a lap -- the winner Earnhardt (10), the day's dominant driver Elliott (121), Bodine (3) and Kyle Petty (1). The great seven-time Cup champ Richard Petty crashed with the late superstar Neil Bonnett on Lap 66. As dominant and successful as Petty was, it's easy to forget he never won an All-Star Race. Among the most memorable aspects of this race will undoubtedly be the day's winner Earnhardt's "Pass in the Grass" of Elliott. It wasn't actually a pass at all, but Earnhardt maneuvering to hold onto his late race lead over Elliott in the day's most dominant car. It was the first of three All-Star wins for Earnhardt. And the gritty, hard-nosed final laps racing launched this -- then still young -- event into a bona fide can't-miss rite of spring. The above photo itself has become quite a piece of NASCAR lore. When this group of 20 drivers came together for this indelible image, these are the numbers they would leave behind: 812 premier series victories, 26 premier series championships, 11 All-Star Race wins ... and one urban legend.
Rudd reflects on NASCAR career, time spent with Childress
Ricky Rudd was a youngster in NASCAR at a time when the term described anyone under 30 that drove around in used equipment and hoped someone noticed their talent before the wheels fell off. Richard Childress was a 36-year-old independent, an owner/driver with a potential sponsor that wasn't interested in 36-year-old owner/drivers, independent or otherwise. Brought together by nothing more than necessity -- Rudd needed a ride and Childress needed a driver -- the pair spent just two years together. But in two years' time, a stellar driving career and a legendary ownership role were launched. "Even today I can't thank Ricky enough for what he did for RCR," Childress said recently during an unveiling of throwback paint schemes to be run by two of his organization's three cars later this year in the Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway . "Those were the breaking points that we needed to get both of our careers jump-started. I think it was a great time for both of us." Austin Dillon , grandson of the team owner, will drive a No. 3 Chevrolet bearing the likeness of Rudd's No. 3 Piedmont Airlines entry at Darlington. "I'd been talking to Piedmont prior to that," Childress said of the 1982 sponsorship agreement. "Even talked to them back when Dale (Earnhardt) was running … races (for us). "They said, 'We're an up-and-coming airline, we want an up and coming driver.' I said, 'Well I know exactly the person.' I convinced Ricky to run for us. We didn't even have it done when he came over to drive for us." Childress had gone the independent route for roughly a dozen years, earning 76 top-10 finishes but never a victory in 285 career starts as a driver. Rudd had begun to climb the racing ladder, but saw his career stall at the end of '81 when he was replaced at DiGard Racing by veteran Bobby Allison. "About that time I got a call from Richard," Rudd said. "He said, 'Hey, nothing concrete but I've got some good equipment that I'm going to Daytona with, would you be willing to drive our car?' That's how it started. "That phone call didn't take place until late December, maybe early January. ... I didn't have anything going that was better than what Richard had to offer. I went to the car that I thought gave me the best chance to win races. Even though the prior half season Dale Earnhardt was driving the car and everyone knows Earnhardt's capabilities but they never really performed that well. There were reasons for that, but Richard was in a major rebuild during that time." Earnhardt drove for Richard Childress Racing for the final 11 races of '81, but departed to spend the next two years with Bud Moore where he won three times. Meanwhile, the RCR organization was beginning to make strides. "Before we went to Daytona, things had started happening. Piedmont Airlines had stepped on board as a sponsor. Goodyear came on board and helped us out with some tires ... there were a lot of people that got on board and liked what they saw," Rudd said. "The team just continued to snowball in the right direction after I was asked to join it, not because of me, but the timing was perfect for me as a driver and was perfect for Richard as an owner, through all the hard work and people he had. It came together and worked." Rudd and Childress went winless in their first season together, but the driver did finish ninth in points. The following year, Rudd began the season with three consecutive poles -- at Daytona, Richmond, Virigina, and Rockingham, North Carolina -- career win No. 1, for Rudd and for Childress, came in the season's 13th race, at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway. Rudd led 57 laps of the 95-lap race, including the final 41. The victory came in his 161st start in the series. "It gave every one of us confidence," Childress said. "It gave him confidence to progress in the sport, gave us confidence that we could win as a team and as a company and we just had to keep digging." "It wasn't a road-race car," Will Lind, now Business Director of Competition for RCR, said. "It was our Martinsville car with the gas hole moved and the oil cooler for the transmission. The only thing specialized about it was him (Rudd)." Afterward, as Childress and crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine began the long trek back to the Carolinas, the team owner said he pulled off on the side of the road. "Kirk and I looked at each other and Kirk said, 'You know what we just did?' "I said, 'Yeah, we won.' " "He said, 'No, you won right outside of LA, with all the big sports going on ... we just won a major race here in Riverside, California.' " Rudd won once more that season, at Martinsville Speedway , and again finished ninth in points. The following season, he moved on to join Bud Moore Engineering; Earnhardt, meanwhile returned to RCR where he went on to win six premier series titles for the former owner/driver. Rudd retired from driving after the 2007 season, with 23 career wins and 374 top-10 finishes in 906 starts. He finished fifth or better in points five times, including second in 1991. He is one of five new nominees on this year's 20-person ballot to be considered for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for 2017. The NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel will meet Wed., May 25 to decide next year's five-member class. "It's an exciting time for me," Rudd said. "It would be great if I make it but there are some guys that are probably better qualified than me. I'd love to be elected this year but hopefully that day will come. At least I'm in the pool anyway; you've got to get in the pool before you can be elected. We'll see how it turns out. But there are some guys that deserve to be in there before I do." It is Childress' eighth year on the Hall of Fame ballot. In addition to six premier series titles and 105 victories, RCR teams have also XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series titles. "You could tell early on that there was something special about it," Rudd said of the organization. "Richard was more than just being a car owner ... it was family. They live, eat, sleep and breathe racing. ... "At the time there were no victories here but as a group it all started happening. And it was just a neat time to be a part of it." MORE: Cast your NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot
Joe Gibbs Racing enjoying the view from the top
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Championships are nothing new for Joe Gibbs Racing . The organization won three premier series titles during a six-year stretch with drivers Bobby Labonte (2000) and Tony Stewart (2002, '05). But domination? Now, that's something different. "It's one of those deals where you pinch yourself to try and find out if it's real," said Jimmy Makar, Senior Vice President of Racing Operations for the four-team outfit on Tuesday. Makar, along with driver Kyle Busch and other team principals, was on hand at the NASCAR Hall of Fame to unveil the No. 18 team's throwback paint scheme for this year's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The look harkens back to 1993, when driver Dale Jarrett earned the organization its first win with a victory in the Daytona 500 . But while the focus was on the past, the present couldn't be ignored. JGR folks tread lightly around the subject. But the numbers say what officials won't -- that since the midpoint of the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season, no organization has been as consistent or as successful as Joe Gibbs Racing . The four-team effort with drivers Busch, Denny Hamlin , Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth won 11 of the final 21 races of the '15 season, a year that ended with Busch claiming the championship. Through this year's first 12 races, those drivers already have won seven times, including six of the last seven. As a result, all four drivers are all but guaranteed a spot in this year's 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup . It's no overnight success story, Busch said, noting that the organization didn't sit idle in early 2013 while engine supplier Toyota Racing Development (TRD) sorted though various engine issues. "We worked on our cars, we worked on our setups, we worked on driver-crew chief communications," he said. "We worked on all that stuff to get our cars better. And when the engines came, then it was all there. We had the total package. "I feel like we've been able to take advantage of all that the last couple of years, of having all the right pieces in place." The 2013 season was the first that TRD began supplying engines to JGR teams. That was also when Kenseth came on board, winning seven times during his debut season in the No. 20 Toyota. Edwards won twice in '15 after the Mooresville, N.C.-based organization expanded to four teams with the addition of the No. 19 entry. For the better part of the past decade, it has been Hendrick Motorsports setting the standard among NASCAR's competitors. So it's not surprising that both Makar and Busch referenced HMS on Tuesday when talk of domination surfaced. "You think about their runs that they have had over the years and how we've always tried to get like that," Makar said. "Here we find ourselves in not exactly the same position but something where we seem to be on top of our game right now and people chasing us. It's kind of fun." Busch was a part of the HMS program while it was the leader of the pack, earning the first four of his 37 career victories with Hendrick. "This sport goes in cycles," Busch said. "Hendrick was on top for a long, long time. I don't want to hear about complaining that we're on top and dominating and bad for the sport because I remember years that Hendrick won 12, 13, 14 races, whatever it was. And they won seven out of eight championships or something like that." Having top-shelf parts and pieces and some of the most talented drivers isn't always a recipe for success. The difference today at JGR, it seems, is the willingness among the four teams to share information as well as opinions. Each driver has a distinct personality, from fiery to subdued, as well as a different approach to racing. "But the thing of it is, they work so well together," Makar said. "That's the one common thing that we've got going on -- they share information with each other, they don't hide things. "The crew chiefs do the same thing. We try to emphasize that. Sometimes you can talk about it all day long but if the guys don't want to do it, it doesn't work." How long will it last? How long can it last? "You always think about, when you're on top, what's it going to take to stay there," Makar said. "It's the hardest thing in the world to stay on top once you get there. Everybody's working even harder to try and beat you. You have to make sure you don't get any sense of overconfidence and quit pushing the limits … that's the only thing you worry about, is if complacency sets in. "Other than that, it's what more can we find? How can we get faster and better, make our cars better and compete better? That's what we do every day … whether you're running 10th every week or first. The whole goal is to get better as a team. Make our race teams better from the inside and keep trying to push ourselves to be better." Gibbs, a Super Bowl-winning coach as well as a championship-winning car owner, perhaps understands the pitfalls better than most. That, and the drive to be on top. "If you get to thinking you're pretty good, that goes against you," he said. "It takes hard work. The other teams are looking at you and they're coming. … There are so many cars that are strong right now." Kenseth's win at Dover on Sunday, he said, was a perfect example of the level of competition. An exciting battle between the veteran and youngster Kyle Larson ( Chip Ganassi Racing ) left the final outcome in question in the final laps. "It came down at the end there, we're (side-by-side) with the 42. Who's going to win? The 42 or us?" Gibbs said. "I do think that's what is exciting about our sport. People love that. It's the greatest reality show in the world because we don't know what’s going to happen." Busch doesn't know what the summer months will bring, but he's confident that the JGR group "is the strongest one." "I say that because I think Toyota is the best manufacturer in the sport," he said. "I feel like all four drivers are probably among the best six or seven drivers in the sport, and we're all on the same team working together. … You've got Joe, who is one of the best bosses in the sport, who pushes all of us, is a real people guy and he knows about putting the right people in the right places. "Then too, the things that we all do to work together, not hide anything, share anything we possibly can." These days, that includes trips to Victory Lane. Editor's note : Table shows victories by organization from the 2015 Coca-Cola 600 through Sunday's AAA 400 (does not include non-points events).