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Cain: Joe Gibbs Racing Chase strategy may change at Texas
FORT WORTH -- We get the concept. It's the embrace that feels a little tricky. After the race at Talladega Superspeedway two weeks ago, Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Carl Edwards , Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch emerged from their Toyotas feeling "good" about a mid-pack bumper-to-bumper-to-bumper finish that neither helped nor hurt their points standings to advance in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. It was a well-executed survival gamble. Their JGR teammate, Denny Hamlin , however, was left on his own to race his heart out at NASCAR's biggest track in hopes of earning a spot into the Chase's Round of 8. He did, but only by virtue of besting a tiebreaker thanks to his third-place finish. Last week, the JGR train used a similar format, sticking together nose-to-tail at Martinsville Speedway -- NASCAR's smallest track -- and finishing third through fifth. In both instances, during post-race interviews on pit road -- depending on which JGR driver you were talking to -- they were up to code on praising team orders. But their facial expressions perhaps revealed a little something else. Granted, at Talladega, it's as nerve-wracking to run at the rear of the field as it is to get into the winner's mix. So it was as much a gamble to run together far away from the front as it was to navigate forward. At Martinsville, there appeared to be potential for a different scenario than the Gibbs freight train, but again it successfully took the checkered flag in title contention. The Gibbs team didn't win at either venue, however. So, now that strategy of playing it safe and bonding together has also fundamentally altered the title hopes of at least one member of the four-car JGR contingent, as three championship bids now remain open. Four drivers move forward to decide the trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Sunday's winner at Martinsville, six-time champ Jimmie Johnson , has earned one of those positions. RELATED: JGR denied in quest for Championship 4 sweep Three JGR cars -- Hamlin, Kenseth and Busch -- are ranked second to fourth in the standings. Edwards finished 36th at Martinsville, suffering from a tire problem, and will essentially need to win at Texas this week or at Phoenix next week to earn a championship chance. It will be an interesting subplot to see how JGR strategizes as the series heads to the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. Will it continue to expect its four drivers to team up, or will this virtual team restrictor plate come off? Credit goes to the four for so obediently following team orders and thinking about the good of the whole versus the glory of the individual. But playing it safe only goes so far now. All the teammates enthusiastically praised the way they ran at Talladega, even Hamlin who was essentially left to fend for himself. However, Sunday at Martinsville, it appeared that the strategy was wearing a little thinner. Hamlin again led JGR's third-through-fifth place contingent, followed by Kenseth and Busch. And it didn't take a certified psychologist to dissect the post-race vibe. Certainly, reigning Cup champion Busch let on that the team's strategy was perhaps a bit troublesome at Martinsville -- even if he wouldn't just come right out and declare that it's time for every man to fend for himself. "You can't wreck each other and that's all there is to it I guess," Busch said. "We worked so good together that we gave the 48 ( Jimmie Johnson ) car the win today. "That's how good JGR is." There have been arguments made that the JGR pack racing "works" at Talladega because of the nature of restrictor plate pack racing . And obviously, it was effective -- even if if didn't result in a win -- at Martinsville last week. But the Texas high banks present different challenges. And as the opportunity to secure a championship bid diminishes with each race, the JGR drivers may understandably feel more selfish in their pursuit. "I don't think it changes a whole lot, honestly," Hamlin said. "I think that we each still have a shot, there's just one spot taken, so three of us would still be a good number to get in that final group and we'll do everything we can to get that done." It may well be the ultimate Texas Two-Step and it's just a question of who will dance.
Vote for Kenseth/Ratcliff, '16? Joe Gibbs Racing offers options
Hey you -- feeling any anxiety about casting your vote in the 2016 presidential election? Not sure which direction to go? Don't fret, people of America. Joe Gibbs Racing is here to offer the undecided voter some new options just in time for Tuesday's big decision. In case you need some write-in options for #ElectionDay ... we have some suggestions #TheChase pic.twitter.com/33QXwppC3a — Jess Rohlik (@JessicaLRohlik) November 8, 2016 We're NASCAR.com and we approve this message.
Daniel Suarez returns home to Mexico a champion
RELATED: ENTRY LIST " SCHEDULE Fresh off his 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series championship, Daniel Suarez will make his highly anticipated return to Mexico this weekend in the very place his NASCAR career began -- the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series. The Monterrey native will serve as honorary grand marshal for the series’ exhibition race Sunday at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City, site of Suarez’s first NASCAR Peak Mexico Series win in 2012. After a year’s hiatus, Mexico’s national stock car championship series will be back on track in 2017 with a full race schedule. The series will celebrate its 10th season with its first year of a multi-year agreement with PEAK as its entitlement sponsor. To get ramped up for the return, the series will compete this weekend in the country’s capital. Nearly 30 drivers have registered for the event, which will be run in two 70-lap segments. Each segment will include a 50-minute time limit. Teams will be allowed to make adjustments in the intermission, and the top 10 positions will be inverted for the second segment. Practice and qualifying will be Saturday. The race is slated to include past champions Abraham Calderón (2014), Rodrigo Peralta (2013), Jorge Goeters (2005, 2012) and Rafael Martinez (2007). Martinez was the first Mexico Series champion under the NASCAR banner. Suarez finished third in the championship in 2012, and was runner-up in 2013 -- missing out on the title by just eight points. Suarez was part of the inaugural NASCAR Next class in 2011, the industry initiative that spotlights the sport’s rising young stars. Three of Suarez’s 10 series wins took place at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, which was named after legendary Formula One driver and one of the earliest Hispanic NASCAR drivers, Pedro Rodriguez. Suarez also notched 25 top-five finishes in 58 races over his four seasons competing in the Mexico Series. He moved up to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, where he won three times driving for Rev Racing and the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program. On November 19, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver became the sport’s first foreign-born national series champion, beating out Elliott Sadler , Justin Allgaier and Erik Jones in the inaugural NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase by virtue of his victory in the series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway .
Kenseth thankful for successful 2016 season
Matt Kenseth speaks on another successful season with Joe Gibbs Racing at the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards Banquet.
Joe Gibbs Racing changes pit crew coach
Joe Gibbs Racing changed its pit crew coach Wednesday, transitioning longtime coach Mike Lepp to the role of senior athletic adviser and placing Matt Osborn in charge of pit crew operations. Lepp joined JGR at the beginning of 2007, and over the past few years, the JGR pit crews have been the ones to beat. Lepp has amassed more than 113 wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series, combined, as well as other awards. He was part of a Sprint Cup championship with the No. 18 team of Kyle Busch last year and was involved in winning multiple XFINITY Series titles. Lepp has played a major role in bringing the JGR teams to the forefront of the pitting world and has two pit crew championships to his credit, with back-to-back wins in 2010 and 2011 with the No. 11 crew of Denny Hamlin . Over the last nine years, the Nos. 11 and 18 crews have been dominant. One of Lepp's most recent accomplishments was assembling the No. 19 crew of Carl Edwards . That pit crew has been a top-three unit since it started with JGR. With his new job, Lepp will assume an increased role in marketing and public relations duties, including public speaking events and actively searching for sponsorship opportunities. "This is the right time for me to make a change and I'm excited about my new role in the organization," Lepp said in a team release. "I'm proud of what we've accomplished on pit road and I know Matt will continue to do a great job going forward." For more pit crew news, visit PitTalks.com .
Analysis: Joe Gibbs , Bill Belichick cut from same competitive cloth
RELATED: Full race results " Chase Grid BRUCE: About that JGR strategy ... " NASCAR: JGR did not violate rules Love it. Hate it. Understand it. Disagree with it. The strategy play by Joe Gibbs to have three of his four cars -- the three that were in solid shape based on points of Kyle Busch , Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth -- ride around in the back for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Round of 12 finale at Talladega Superspeedway to avoid any potential calamity has brought out a variety of opinions. Denny Hamlin , who needed a strong finish to advance, spent most of the day at the front without the benefit of his teammates drafting with him. Hamlin finished third and advanced to the Round of 8 on a tiebreaker over Austin Dillon . That propelled all four JGR cars into the Round of 8, just as mastermind Joe Gibbs drew it up. Was it cunning? Sure. Was it gamesmanship? Yes. Was it risky? Potentially. Was it within the rules? Absolutely.
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).
Joe Gibbs Racing announces crew chief changes
RELATED: What drivers and crew chiefs are on the move for '16? Joe Gibbs Racing announced its driver/crew chief lineup for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on Monday, with key changes coming for drivers Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin . Dave Rogers, most recently Hamlin's crew chief with the No. 11 JGR Toyota, shifts over to the No. 19 Camry to pair with Edwards. Mike Wheeler, who served last year as crew chief for JGR's No. 20 team in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, replaces Rogers to call the shots for Hamlin next season. Darian Grubb, crew chief for Edwards' first season with JGR, is "currently exploring several opportunities" for 2016, according to a release provided by the team. The orginization's other two Sprint Cup teams keep their pairings intact. Adam Stevens returns as crew chief for the No. 18 Toyota and reigning Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch . Jason Ratcliff is back atop the pit box for the wheelman of the No. 20 Toyota Matt Kenseth . Team owner Joe Gibbs called its 2015 campaign "probably the strongest season we have ever had" after all four drivers qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, but that changes were made to keep the company competitive. "I think every year you evaluate each of your teams however and sometimes during that process you find that a change might be in the best interest for all involved," Gibbs said in the team's news release. "Mike Wheeler is obviously someone that has a long history with Denny (Hamlin) and that No. 11 team. After seeing what he accomplished as a crew chief in our XFINITY Series program last year we felt the timing was right to move him back into our Cup program. "Dave Rogers has also been successful in every role he has had with us and we think he will work well with Carl (Edwards) going into 2016." Wheeler, a longtime lead engineer for Hamlin, embarks on his first full season as a crew chief in NASCAR's premier series. He served as interim crew chief for six Sprint Cup races in 2014, taking over the No. 11 during Grubb's suspension for a P5-level penalty. Wheeler helped spur the JGR No. 20 Toyota to eight Coors Light Pole Awards and four victories in the XFINITY Series last season, achieving three wins with Hamlin and one with Erik Jones . Rogers, a 15-time winner in Sprint Cup competition, will start 2016 working with his third JGR driver in three seasons. Rogers teamed with Busch from 2010-14 before taking the helm with Hamlin last year. Grubb joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2012 after three seasons and one championship with Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart . Grubb worked primarily with Hamlin in his first three years with the Gibbs organization before shifting to Edwards' team in 2015.
Joe Gibbs Racing
Joe Gibbs Racing history, full crews of Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch
Stewart-Haas, Joe Gibbs Racing secure fourth Charters
RELATED: Who has the 36 Charters? " Fast facts about charters DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing have each obtained an additional Charter for their respective teams, a move that will guarantee NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Kurt Busch (SHR) and Carl Edwards (JGR) a starting spot in all 36 points races each week. Officials with both teams made the announcements separately via social media (Twitter) Saturday afternoon. Securing the Charters was expected. Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman said earlier this week that Charters awarded to his organization, which ceased operations at the conclusion of the 2015 season, would likely be purchased by the Stewart-Haas and Joe Gibbs organizations. No purchase price was announced. NASCAR unveiled the new system Feb. 9, announcing a nine-year arrangement that not only will assure Charter teams a starting spot in the field but there will also be financial benefits generated by the move. Based on criteria developed by NASCAR and with input from the industry, Charters were awarded to 36 teams, each of which had attempted to qualify for all races since the start of the 2013 season. It was also announced that beginning this season Sprint Cup Series fields would feature 40 cars rather than 43 as had previously been the case. As a result, there will be four remaining positions in the field each week to be filled by Open (non-Charter) teams. Those will be determined as they have been in previous years, based on qualifying speeds. SHR was awarded three Charters for its Nos. 4, 10 and 14 teams; the No. 41 team did not debut until 2014. Likewise JGR was awarded three Charters for its Nos. 11, 18 and 20 teams, and sought a fourth for the No. 19, which debuted with Edwards last season. Charters may be sold or leased (a one-time transfer), with NASCAR approval, and HScott Motorsports owner Harry Scott opted for the latter in order to obtain a Charter for his No. 46 team with driver Michael Annett . Scott announced Friday that he had reached an agreement with Premium Motorsports owner Jay Robinson for use of that team's Charter for the 2016 season. HScott, a two-team organization, was awarded one Charter, assigned to the No. 15 team of Clint Bowyer , meaning Annett would have to qualify for all races this season. Premium Motorsports will continue to field a Sprint Cup entry. Cole Whitt will attempt to qualify the team's No. 98 Toyota in the field for next week’s season-opening Daytona 500