In this week's Race Center, NASCAR.com's Chris Rice gets you caught up on all the action for the Pure Michigan 400 which has three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers starting in the top three.
All four of team's cars place in top five in Quaker State 400 SPARTA, Ky. -- Winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is a proud accomplishment for any team in the league. But to take the checkered and land all four of a team's drivers in the top five is an even bigger success. It's a feat so impressive that it hadn't been done since Roush Fenway Racing in August 2008 at Michigan International Speedway. That is, until Joe Gibbs Racing rewrote record books Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway. JGR's four-car powerhouse was led by Saturday's Quaker State 400 race winner Kyle Busch , followed by teammates Denny Hamlin , Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth in third through fifth, respectively. "What a great night for Joe Gibbs Racing ," Kenseth said after the race. "I am really happy for all those guys and the organization, and I think we all learned a lot of stuff. You know, we were kind of off all night, but we kept fighting and had some great pit stops and good strategy and got a decent finish out of it." As Kenseth alluded to, the task wasn't an easy one for the team, as all four cars were dealt a heavy hand with the new rules package debut atop of the standard trickiness of Kentucky Speedway's uneven surface. Busch's win among the difficulties was another feather in the No. 18 team's hat, as the group has been battling the odds since the driver's return to full-time competition in May following his early-season injuries. "Obviously, the night went real well for us," Busch said in a post-race winner's press conference. "But in general, man, it was really, really good to get out there and race like that tonight and to run up front and put on a good show ... but most importantly I can't say enough about (crew chief) Adam Stevens, my team, everyone that did such a great job for me and gave me a great race car to go out there and perform like I did and just to be able to put it all together throughout 400 miles." For Edwards, the top-five finish was the defeat of a frustrating battle he had been fighting throughout the weekend. "I talked to Carl today on the phone for quite awhile, right before I flew over," team owner Joe Gibbs said. "And we were kind of ‑‑ and to be quite truthful, he was worried. He said, 'you know, I just didn't feel good with the package, I thought some of our other cars were better than me' and we had a long discussion on it." The newest member of the Joe Gibbs Racing clan, Edwards joined the organization at the beginning of the 2015 Sprint Cup season. While he won the Coca-Cola 600 in May at Charlotte, the No. 19 driver's performance this season has been mediocre the remainder of the year, only recording one other top 10 besides his win before Kentucky. "I got to tell you, I was, I had a big applaud when I saw that 19 come roaring up through there," Gibbs said of Edwards. "It was really a big deal." Edwards and the rest of his teammates seemed to have found something strong in the new rules package this weekend, an achievement that stumped other big-name teams such as Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports . It's an aerodynamic change that awarded a plethora of control to the driver -- and exposed any flaws in driving ability. "We've been working on it," No. 20 crew chief Jason Ratcliff said after the race. "As soon as we knew it was coming, we know that if you put it back in the driver's hands, it's going to be good for JGR. We've got what I think is four of the best in the business and it showed tonight. So we've been working on it hard and it's just one of those weekends where it paid off for us." While raw talent has proven beneficial in the Sprint Cup Series, another crucial element is the ability to work with one another, despite the notion that stock car racing is often considered a solo sport. This weekend, the Joe Gibbs drivers seem to work as a cohesive unit, evident in each of their improvements throughout the weekend. "We have just been working very well together as a group," Edwards said. "Denny (Hamlin) was basically my counselor the other day after practice. I was so frustrated, I thought my car was terrible. I went straight over and talked to him and he helped me a little bit. "... It's a good group and it's cool to be a part of it. These guys, they really push me a lot. It's cool when your teammates are this fast. It's really neat for me." Hamlin agreed, adding, "Any time you have a driver of caliber of when Kyle (Busch) came in, Matt (Kenseth), and now Carl (Edwards), it just continues to push you to go faster. And push you to do your job better and that's what ‑‑ when you can feed off each other like that, that's typically how you get to an elite level." Saturday night's showdown in the Bluegrass State saw the JGR drivers rise to the occasion, battling to the front. And while the group works together melodiously off the track, the race even witnessed the teammates battling one another for the lead. It was a sight that showed the drivers' competitiveness, but probably also set owner Gibbs' nerves awry, according to Ratcliff. "I would say when they were three-wide, he was probably hiding his eyes," Ratcliff said with a chuckle. "I would be." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs reflect on Joe Gibbs Racing's dominating day at Kentucky Speedway with all four drivers finishing in the top five.
Coach Joe Gibbs shed light on Erik Jones ' NASCAR career arc Tuesday morning, saying that a full XFINITY Series schedule and some Sprint Cup events were planned for 2016. Gibbs , appearing on "The Morning Drive on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said that advancing the 19-year-old driver through the NASCAR development ladder was a top priority at Joe Gibbs Racing . "We look at Erik as a big part of our future," Gibbs told SiriusXM, "and we've got a plan laid out and it's not something we've talked about in public, but we all kind of know inside of our racing organization, and with his parents and his agent ... is just great. So we've talked over a plan, and basically the plan next year would be a full XFINITY season and try and run for a championship there and also to, in all likelihood, have him in some Cup races so that would be the goal for next year." Jones already has one Sprint Cup start to his credit, making an impressive drive at Kansas Speedway in May in place of the injured Kyle Busch . He also logged a hefty relief stint the month before, substituting for an ailing Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway. Gibbs , 74, said plans to get Jones into a full-time ride are taking shape, though his organization currently stands at the NASCAR-mandated maximum of four teams, with Busch, Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth on the JGR driver roster. "We've got a plan laid out in the future, and it's something we can't, you know, we don't want to talk about now, but there is no question -- this guy, Erik's headed for Cup," Gibbs said with a laugh. "He's headed for Cup and we've got a path charted that we think is the best to get him ready and to fulfill his goal of being in a Cup car as quick as we can get him there." Jones is in his first full season driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The Michigan native ranks third in the series standings, with four pole positions and one victory in 12 races thus far. Jones has also competed in 17 of 19 XFINITY Series events this season, with four poles and two wins splitting time between JGR's Nos. 20 and 54 Toyotas.
Joe Gibbs Racing history, full crews of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- Saturday's race at Road America marks the finale of a five-race NASCAR XFINITY Series schedule for veteran road racer Boris Said this year in Joe Gibbs Racing 's No. 54 Toyota. On Friday, Said hinted that the event could signify another finale on a much broader scale. Said will try to cash in on another opportunity in top-flight equipment in Saturday's Road America 180 Fired up by Johnsonville (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). He'll be driving for the same No. 54 team that's visited Victory Lane four times this season, three times with Sprint Cup vet Kyle Busch and once with JGR prodigy Erik Jones . "Man, this is like the best Christmas present I ever got in my life," Said said after Friday's final practice at the 4.048-mile track. "I've been racing for over 30 years. I'm going to be 53 in a couple weeks. In the last three or four years, I've been racing cars that don't have a prayer to win, underfunded teams. It's still fun, but not fun not being competitive. So, to get an opportunity to drive for Monster and Joe Gibbs and Toyota in equipment like this, it was a dream come true. To finally run in the top five at Watkins Glen, it kind of shows, hey maybe it's not my age, it was just the equipment. "It's just been one of the most fun years I've ever had doing these five races with these guys. Now that it's last one, it might be the last NASCAR car race I ever run, I don't know. But it sure is a cool way to go out." If Saturday proves to be Said's swan song, his record will show one XFINITY victory, one Camping World Truck Series win and two Sprint Cup pole positions in a career that dates back to 1995 in NASCAR national series competition. This year, Said's biggest highlight was a fourth-place finish at the Glen, and leading two laps two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio and a lap at Talladega in May. Said pointed out that he dialed back his sports-car racing schedule this year to better focus on his five-race schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing . But he's otherwise kept occupied off the track in a partnership with Rick Hendrick's automotive group for BMW and Volkswagen dealerships. "That's another dream come true," Said said. In terms of the future, Said indicated that he'd likely compete in sports car events next season, but he'd jump at the chance for another competitive ride in NASCAR. "Who knows? If I could ever get another opportunity like this again, I don't care if I was 70 years old, I'd take it," Said said. "This is like a vacation every time I get to run this. I have fun every minute of the day here. Part of me is sad to see it end, but part of me is like, man, it sure was fun, though."
Presenting NASCAR content from around the web Editor's note: On Wednesday at noon ET, "High 5" will present some of the best NASCAR-related content from around the web. 1. Exceeding expectations The NASCAR world was shocked when Kyle Busch returned to racing after only an 11-race hiatus following his injuries at Daytona. But no one would have dreamed Busch would come back with this big a fire in his belly, winning four out of five races from Sonoma to Indianapolis. According to NBC Sports' Joe Posnanski, his success is evidence of Busch's potential as a race car driver -- which had been clear since his earliest days behind the wheel -- becoming reality following his injury and new fatherhood to son Brexton. "Kyle had so much raw talent in a race car – his ability to control any kind of car, to see openings, to take it to the edge and keep it there – that his future seemed limitless," Posnanski writes. One career-altering possiblity looms on the horizon for Busch, who will be able to contend for a championhip if he remains in the top 30 in the point standings. It's something in his decorated career that he's yet to achieve in the Sprint Cup Series -- and wants badly. Click here to read the entire piece from NBC SportsWorld . 2. Girl power Jessica Mendoza made history on Tuesday during the MLB game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks. Jessica Mendoza becomes the first woman to call an ESPN MLB game as an in-booth analyst. (via @jessmendoza ) pic.twitter.com/3R0vjUictZ — SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 25, 2015 Mendoza, who has won two Olympic medals for the United States softball team, was also the first woman to call a College World Series game, serving as a part of the crew last season in Omaha. She joins the likes of NASCAR's Danica Patrick , who traded her firesuit for a broadcasting microphone last season at Michigan, becoming the first woman to call a race in NASCAR. Hat tips and a "You go, girl" to both of these awesome women. 3. Denny's dream "Mr. Gibbs , I hope to drive for you some day." That's what an 11-year-old Denny Hamlin said to Coach Joe Gibbs , owner of Joe Gibbs Racing , back in 1992 at an autograph session. Little did Gibbs know, not only would this young Washington Redskins fan wheel a JGR car one day, but he would also contend for a championship, racing for the title in 2014 as part of the Championship 4. In a recent interview with 120 Sports , Hamlin discusses his relationship with Joe Gibbs , the jack rabbit incident at Michigan and his friendship with Michael Jordan. According to the No. 11 driver, the basketball legend is a huge NASCAR fan and was at Homestead-Miami Speedway last season from morning until late night, supporting Hamlin's run for the title. RELATED: Truck practice red-flagged for rabbit on track 4. Early bird doesn't get the worm -- or bronze medal Celebrating after a hard-fought victory is great -- but just make sure you actually win before you fist-pump. Runner Molly Huddle learned that lesson the hard way in Monday's IAAF 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China. Just before crossing the finish line, Huddle threw her arms in the air to celebrate her bronze medal -- only to be passed by fellow American Emily Infeld at the line. Read the entire story from Mashable here . Can you imagine if NASCAR drivers started doing burnouts before they actually took the checkered? It may look a little something like this. Plenty of smoke and spinning, but alas, no checkered flag. 5. Business in the front, party in the back Marriage is all about compromise, right? A couple from the United Kingdom found that out early when it came time to choosing a wedding cake. He was all about superheroes, she not so much. This disguised (Marvel-appropriate, right?) cake was the result. This superhero wedding cake is all business in the front, party in the back http://t.co/cZGprnNBGx pic.twitter.com/zx34k0Ph0Y — People magazine (@people) August 25, 2015 "Business in the front, party in the back." Kind of reminds us of something else we know and loved. RIP Ricky Stenhouse Jr .'s mullet. RELATED: Stenhouse Jr. rids self of mullet
The Joe Gibbs Racing teams of Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth , which combined to win six of the last nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, will each lose 15 minutes of practice time next weekend when the series heads to Darlington Raceway . The two were among 11 teams issued warnings arising from pre-qualifying and pre-race inspection issues at Bristol Motor Speedway , site of the Aug. 22 Irwin Tools Night Race . Busch's No. 18 team failed pre-race inspection four times on Saturday. Busch finished eighth in the race. Kenseth's No. 20 team was penalized for failing pre-race inspection on its first two attempts, as well as failing to get to inspection at the allotted time. Kenseth finished 42nd after when an engine issue sidelined the 2003 Sprint Cup champion after 110 laps of the 500-lap race. NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series is not competing this weekend. The Bojangles' Southern 500 is scheduled for Sept. 6 at Darlington (7 p.m., NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The 15-minute penalties will be enforced when opening practice gets underway on Friday, Sept. 4 at 11 a.m. Kenseth is currently fourth in the Chase Grid and has a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff locked up. Busch, who missed the first 11 races of the season due to injuries sustained in a crash at Daytona International Speedway in February, is currently second in the Chase Grid, but needs to clinch a top 30 position in the point standings over the final two regular-season races before he officially locks his spot in the Chase up. Warnings may be issued to teams for a variety of minor infractions. For every fourth warning issued to a team, whether during a championship (points) or non-championship (non-points) event, the loss of pit stall selection will be enforced. Others teams receiving warnings at Bristol for failing pre-qualifying inspection twice were: No. 22 ( Joey Logano / Team Penske ), No. 24 ( Jeff Gordon / Hendrick Motorsports ), No. 7 ( Alex Bowman / Tommy Baldwin Racing ), No. 30 ( Travis Kvapil /TMG) and the No. 98 ( Timmy Hill /Premium Motorsports) Also penalized for being late to inspection were the following teams: No. 40 ( Landon Cassill /Hillman Racing ), No. 83 ( Matt DiBenedetto / BK Racing , No. 15 ( Clint Bowyer / Michael Waltrip Racing ) and the No. 11 ( Denny Hamlin / Joe Gibbs Racing ).
RELATED: Homestead-Miami hosting Goodyear tire test HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Waiting out a morning shower in the Homestead-Miami Speedway garage on Wednesday, reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick was dressed casually but clearly at work, talking with his Stewart-Haas Racing crew as they hovered over laptop computers and gestured toward his plain gray No. 4 Chevrolet SS. The last time this group was at this track, they were getting showered in champagne, not rain, celebrating Harvick's 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship title, thanks to a victory in the season finale here. But it was all business for Harvick Wednesday as he and nine other drivers came to the 1.5-mile track for a one-day open test for Sprint Cup teams, attended by three of last year's four championship contenders, also including last week's winner Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) and Denny Hamlin ( Joe Gibbs Racing ). RELATED: Anheuser-Busch to change look of SHR's No. 4 car in 2016 "You know, I actually hadn't even thought about it to tell you the truth," a smiling Harvick said of his first time back at Homestead since his title-winning performance last November. "I know that doesn't make for a great story, but no one [on the team] has even mentioned it. Everything happens so fast in this sport from a week-to-week basis and you get so caught up in what you need to do the next week. "We're always trying to look forward so I really hadn't thought about everything that happened last year. We're so focused on being in position, to hopefully have a chance to do that again and get back here." Harvick's primary championship challengers were of similar mindset. And like all of the 10 drivers here -- also including Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kyle Larson , Martin Truex Jr ., Ty Dillon , Ryan Blaney , Clint Bowyer and Trevor Bayne -- the lone opportunity to turn some extra test laps at Homestead is something not to be missed, even if track time boiled down to a couple late morning hours before heavier rains interrupted the schedule. With the elimination-style format of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs heading into its second year, the importance of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway has increased exponentially. When the Sprint Cup Series arrives in South Florida in three months, four drivers will be eligible for the title – the highest finisher in this race will be crowned champion. Last year, Harvick won the race and therefore, the season trophy. Logano, who collected his third win in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford last weekend at Bristol, also spoke about the emphasis teams now place specifically on being prepared for Homestead. MORE: Logano victorious in Bristol night race "Hopefully this test is very important for us," Logano said with a slight laugh. "You hope it is [because that means you're in the championship hunt.] Just getting to here (season finale) is a challenge. "If we do, then this test today will be the most important test of the year. So we definitely want to put a lot into it and make sure we get a lot out of it and really understand what we learned out of it." Logano's three wins would rank him right behind the season's four-time winners Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch for the start of the Chase on Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway and like Harvick, Logano believes his team is right where it needs to be at this point in the season. "Right now, we're peaking at the right spot, and getting a couple wins in the last three weeks is what we need to do heading into the Chase," said Logano, who finished 16th in the 2014 Homestead race. "Winning the Bristol night race last year kind of propelled us into the Chase, I thought, and gave us good momentum into the Chase. Getting all the way to here [Homestead] was a heck of an accomplishment. And we just need to focus on what we need to do. I feel like as a team we learned a lot in terms of how to execute a championship weekend." RELATED: Harvick scores another runner-up finish It looks like everyone will have to raise their game to dethrone Harvick, however, who has a pair of wins and a series-best 17 top-five finishes highlighted by 10 runner-up showings already this season. "We've struck a pretty good course in terms of being able to have a plan in place for the Chase, and everyone has done a good job in terms of being prepared when it comes time for Chicago," Harvick said. "We've been ready every week. We've just got to keep doing those things. ... No different than last year when we made it happen when it counted." WATCH: Harvick chases Logano in the closing laps at Bristol
Kenny Wallace on driver accountability, plans for Bowyer's 2016 season RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated Kenny Wallace is decidedly old school. When it comes to the debate about NASCAR being tougher in policing restarts, Wallace insists that it's the drivers who need to serve as judge and jury for those guilty of too much gamesmanship. That hot-button issue kicks off this week's installment of Herman Unplugged: NASCAR ILLUSTRATED: Drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr . have been vocal about NASCAR too loosely policing restarts. Is there room for improvement there? HERMAN: "No, I disagree with all that. Ten to 15 years ago we had something called gentlemen's agreements. We have these restarts between two red lines and it's gamesmanship to where you’re gonna start. I tell you how you fix that: If the driver in front brake checks you, you beat his ass in between the haulers. In my day, Terry Labonte and Kyle Petty chewed my ass out when I did something wrong. I feel that the drivers need to do what we did, which is go between the trailers and say, 'If you brake check me on a restart again, I'll whip your ass.' These guys just need to go, that's all there is to it. If they start playing these games, you just fix it with a fistfight and that will stop it right there." NI: Tragic situation with IndyCar driver Justin Wilson losing his life at Pocono. Tony Stewart loaned his plane to Wilson's brother Stefan so he could be with him at hospital Sunday night. It was another example of the motorsports community rallying to help in a time of need. Do you have a personal story on that front to share? HERMAN: "We get so wrapped up in competition and when it comes down to the end and we have perspective, you realize competition for what it is and then we have life over here. When my father passed away October 30, 2011, Rick Hendrick gave us one of his big team planes that seats some 30-50 people and we flew my dad's casket in the belly of that airplane all the way back to St. Louis. We went to write a check to Rick and he would not take it. We tried hard to pay him and he would not take anything." NI: The last on-track fatality in NASCAR came on that dark day at Daytona in 2001. Not to compare the two series, but what do you think it says about NASCAR that there hasn't been a death in that long? HERMAN: "I feel that NASCAR has reacted much stronger than any other sanctioning body in the world. NASCAR reacts quickly now whenever something happens from a safety perspective. If a driver finds a concrete wall they thought they would never hit, by the very next race there's something done about it. Within a year, IndyCar had a driver get hit by a spring in the head and then a driver get hit by a wheel, and it amazes me that with technology and the new world we live in that they haven't reacted faster. To their credit, after Dan Wheldon's passing, they redesigned the whole car. But they have to do something with those cockpits. It's a must." NI: What's your best guess on where Clint Bowyer lands in 2016? HERMAN: "The reason this is the best kept secret is I truly believe Clint Bowyer doesn't know where he's going. I don't think there's any story here; all we know is Clint Bowyer will go somewhere because he's got some money from 5-hour Energy. He's a good driver and he has money. That's a recipe for a bidding war. Although we know that 5-hour is only enough money to get you halfway, so whoever wins the bidding war for Clint has to know he's only gonna have enough money to get you to the 50-yard line. So you'll have to have more money to fund the rest of the season. 5-hour is a great sponsor but not one for the whole year." NI: Notwithstanding all the wins by Joe Gibbs Racing and Joey Logano lately, it's hard not to like Kevin Harvick to repeat as Sprint Cup champion. Is that how you see it too? HERMAN: "I see that he's a favorite and I'll tell you why. He hasn't started his mind games yet. He's been real mellow. Once he starts being a hard ass, he'll get into people's heads. He hasn't even used his bumper yet. Once he starts that and using that cage fighting mentality, it's gonna be a different game. He hasn't used his psychology and his mouth yet and once he does it'll be pretty fun to watch." SUBSCRIBE NOW!