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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).
Ron Bouchard passes away at age 67
RELATED: Bouchard's standout Modified career Ron Bouchard, winner of the 1981 Talladega 500 and the premier series' rookie of the year that same season, passed away Thursday. He was 67. A family friend and close pal of my fathers Ron Bouchard passed away today. My thoughts and prayers go to his family. — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) December 10, 2015 NASCAR made a statement on Thursday regarding the news, "Ron Bouchard's passion for racing was evident from his very early years in NASCAR. Competition fueled Ron, whether racing modifieds at short tracks across the Northeast or winning rookie of the year honors in NASCAR's premier series. He loved this sport, and made an indelible mark on it, one that won’t soon be forgotten. "NASCAR extends its condolences to the friends and family of Ron Bouchard, a true racer." A native of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Bouchard pulled off one of NASCAR's most stunning victories when he shot from third to first on the final lap at Talladega (then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway), passing Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte to score his lone premier series victory. The win came in his 11th career start. He was driving the Jack Beebe-owned Race Hill Farm No. 47 Buick, with crew chief Bob Johnson. Bouchard had taken over the ride earlier in the season following the departure of driver Harry Gant. Bouchard became the 13th different winner in the 13-year history of the summer race at the 2.66-mile track. "Coming off the fourth turn … I was behind Waltrip and Terry when Terry decided to pass Darrell on the outside," Bouchard told reporters following his Talladega victory. "When he moved up, Darrell moved up to get in front of him. When I saw that, I just shot down to the inside … and moved up fast." A standout Modified driver, Bouchard won track championships at Stafford Springs, Thompson and Seekonk speedways before moving up to what was then known as NASCAR's Grand National division. He made 160 starts at NASCAR’s top level, finishing a career-best eighth in points in '82. In addition to his one win, Bouchard scored 19 top-five and 60 top-10 finishes. He won the series' rookie title in a class that included Morgan Shepherd , Tim Richmond and Joe Ruttman . Seven years later, his brother Ken Bouchard captured the series rookie of the year award as well.
NASCAR to honor fallen troops with 600 Miles of Remembrance
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (May 23, 2016) -- Continuing the sport's long-standing tradition of honoring the United States Armed Forces, all 40 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will bear the name of a fallen service member on their race car windshields during Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), NASCAR announced today. For the second consecutive year, "600 Miles of Remembrance" will pay tribute this Memorial Day Weekend to those who bravely served and died defending our country. Windshield headers normally reserved for drivers' last names will read "SGT HARVEY," "LCPL RAMIREZ," and "SPC BEAUDOIN," among other names of the fallen. The special tribute will commemorate the launch of NASCAR: An American Salute ™, the industry's collective expression of respect and gratitude for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, past and present. Fans can follow the conversation on social media using #NASCARsalutes. "Each of the names proudly displayed on these race cars tells a story of honor and sacrifice," said Brent Dewar, NASCAR chief operating officer. "As the NASCAR industry reflects on Memorial Day Weekend, we’re proud to honor these and all fallen service members in a way that helps ensure their stories and lives are never forgotten." Many of the service members whose names will be displayed on the race cars were chosen by the teams, and some have unique connections to the fallen. Navy SEAL Denis Miranda, who was killed in a helicopter crash in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2010, trained in BUD/S alongside Graham Molatch, jackman for the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team. Miranda’s name will appear on Kyle Larson 's car during the Coca-Cola 600 . Lance Corporal Scott Lynch served in the United States Marine Corps with Mark Singleton, tire changer for Chip Ganassi Racing , and will be honored on Jamie McMurray 's No. 1 car. Furniture Row Racing employee John Parks served in the Marines with Jeffrey Bohr, Jr., a gunnery sergeant who was killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and whose name will be carried on Martin Truex Jr . 's No. 78 car. Toyota will also honor the names of fallen service members on its pace cars and grand marshal cars for the Coca-Cola 600 as part of 600 Miles of Remembrance. Many of the families of the service members being recognized will be in attendance at Charlotte Motor Speedway . The track will host more than 6,000 active military members at the Coca-Cola 600 in honor of Memorial Day. Throughout the week, NASCAR: An American Salute will feature various activities demonstrating the industry's support for the military, including: · During Saturday’s Hisense 4K TV 300 , NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers will display red, white and blue XFINITY windshield decals on their race cars. · Goodyear will replace the "Eagle" sidewall design with "Support Our Troops" messaging on all tires used during the Memorial Day Weekend races. · NASCAR, Coca-Cola and Mars, through the annual military support program, DeCA, will offer a sweepstakes to shoppers at more than 180 commissaries who will have a chance to win a trip for two to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week in Las Vegas. The kickoff event will take place at Fort Bragg on May 25 and feature No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin . The 2016 DAYTONA 500 winner will tour the Warrior Transition Battalion Unit and visit with families at the South Commissary. · In partnership with Operation Gratitude, Mars will invite race fans to help assemble care packages for the troops in the midway at Charlotte Motor Speedway . The care packages will include Mars candy and be shipped following the Coca-Cola 600 to deployed military members. · NASCAR and Honor and Remember, Inc. will display specially prepared Honor and Remember flags representing those who lost their life in service to our country from each of the 50 United States throughout the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway . During the Coca Cola 600 pre-race broadcast (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX), FOX Sports will recognize all service members who have lost their lives in the past year by displaying their names and branch of service on a graphic scroll. This Sunday, NASCAR drivers will discuss 600 Miles of Remembrance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (channel 90) during a special military tribute show airing at 1 p.m. ET. The Dialed In Salute to the Troops special, hosted by Claire B. Lang, will feature interviews with several drivers as well as service men and service women from different branches of the military. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600 will be broadcast live from Charlotte Motor Speedway at 6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Additional live coverage can be found on NASCAR.com . To view an online gallery of the service members honored as part of 600 Miles of Remembrance, visit www.NASCAR.com/salute .
Joe Gibbs Racing confirms No. 18 pit crew replacement
RELATED: No. 18 team fined; two suspended The Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 team was given a P3 penalty Wednesday regarding lug nuts and improper procedures during the last pit stop at Kansas. Included in those penalties were the suspension of crew chief Adam Stevens and front tire changer Josh Leslie. The big question on pit road is who will replace Leslie at Dover, and how that will affect the No. 18 pit crew. JGR confirmed to NASCAR.com and PitTalks that Brian Eastland will replace Leslie. Eastland was the front changer on the No. 78 of Martin Truex Jr . early in the year before being replaced by Chris Taylor. Eastland still is at JGR as a backup and should fill in nicely. The No. 18 crew was tops on pit road at Kansas and will still be very good at Dover. Yes, they will potentially have some chemistry and timing issues, but they still are a talented crew and Brian Eastland is a very good tire changer. For more pit-crew news, visit PitTalks.com .
Carl Edwards rallies from miscues for top-five spot
RELATED: Full race results CONCORD, N.C. -- A missed pit-road entry, a snag by the dreaded lug-nut check, and Carl Edwards still wound up on the cover of a video game. Despite a stinging penalty just before the final 13-lap segment of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, Edwards manufactured a fourth-place finish with a heavy-duty rally in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 at Charlotte Motor Speedway . He led three times for just four of the 113 laps, but made a bigger mark with how he threaded traffic in the final dash to the checkered flag. It was enough to lay claim to his spot as the top-finishing Toyota driver, landing him on the cover of the NASCAR Heat Evolution game that debuts in September. "We didn't really have the fastest car and we tried to screw it up about four different times," Edwards said with a sheepish grin. Edwards then explained how missing the entrance to pit road during the second of three segments cost the No. 19 team valuable track position, putting extra pressure on the mandatory final stop. That stop was a fast one, helping Edwards gain four spots among those pitting. But the check for lug-nut tightness led to a thumbs-down from the NASCAR official checking the drivers' side of the car. "I put my guys in a box, they had to do the fastest pit stop basically you could ever do," Edwards said afterward on pit road. "One lug nut was not all the way up, but we got it done and went to the back. We made it back up to fourth, and really after all the dust settled, if we had one more caution, I think we would've had a shot at it. It's crazy, just a crazy night." Edwards was rewarded for his final charge after lining up in the seventh row for the final restart. The 36-year-old driver won the All-Star Race in 2011 and had more recent Charlotte history on his side with his Coca-Cola 600 victory here last May. But he's also had a consistently solid pit crew all year, a track record that made it hard for crew chief Dave Rogers to assign blame. "The one thing we got going for us, we've got a bunch of tough guys," Rogers said. "We've got a real tough driver, real tough pit crew, and nobody on this race team gives up. We didn't do a very good job executing today, we just had a couple things go against us. That's not the norm for us. Usually, we're spot-on with our execution, so I'm not too worried about it, but even despite that, everyone battled down, got everything we could get, finished fourth. "If it wasn't the All-Star Race, you'd go home with fourth really pleased, but here it's winner-take-all. We'll go home and regroup for the 600 and we'll be back next week."
Kenseth penalized after failing to pit under green
RELATED: Full race results The No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team of Matt Kenseth was penalized when it failed to pit under green by the end of Segment 1 in Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway . According to the event's rules, every team was required to perform at least a two-tire pit stop under green-flag conditions within the first 50 laps. However, Kenseth's team stayed out throughout the segment with the intent to pit under green at the last possible moment. That gamble did not pay off when a Lap 46 caution flag came out after Jamie McMurray 's No. 1 Chevrolet spun in Turn 2. "We were coming that time, which would have been coming to Lap 47 and then try to get two tires and keep your track position," Kenseth said. "That was his (crew chief Jason Ratcliff's) plan and we just caught the caution on the wrong lap." With the caution flag out, Kenseth was unable to pit under green prior to Lap 50. Kenseth was held on pit road and scored one lap down at the start of Segment 2. The sequence led to a pointed discussion between Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff over the scanner. On Lap 73, Kenseth was involved in a multi-car wreck that saw his night come to an early end with an 18th-place finish. RELATED: Stewart, Kenseth involved in wreck
Harvick lands pole for Sprint All-Star Race
RELATED: Full lineup for Sprint All-Star Race Kevin Harvick will start Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race from the pole position after Coors Light Pole Qualifying was rained out at Charlotte Motor Speedway . The Stewart-Haas Racing driver will lead the field to green after the field was set by owners' points. Joining Harvick on front row will be reigning series champion Kyle Busch . Defending race-winner and Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin , will line up 12th. Green flag is set for 9:26 p.m. ET, with coverage on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. MORE: See the complete lineup in photos
Hard luck, near-win heartbreak for Kyle Larson
RELATED: Full race results CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson nearly became the latest driver to go from the preliminary event to the winner's circle of the annual NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. But a loose-handling car and a hard-charging Joey Logano proved to be his undoing Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway . It's a familiar feeling for the young driver of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates' No. 42 Chevrolet, who has finished second four times in points-paying races in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. RELATED: Larson grabs runner-up finish at Dover Saturday night's 113-lap show wasn't for points, but there was a $1 million payday waiting at the checkered flag. And when the 23-year-old shot the gap on the race's final restart, he zoomed from third to first with less than 13 laps remaining. But Logano ( Team Penske ) was able to track the leader down and after a side-by-side battle, Larson slipped up and into the wall less than three laps from the finish. Logano held on for the victory; Larson limped to the garage, 16th in the final rundown. "I definitely didn't over-correct," a dejected Larson said afterward. "I was just going fast, got loose, lost control and hit the wall. I'm disappointed. I feel like I keep letting my guys down." Larson had qualified for the Sprint All-Star Race by winning a sheetmetal swapping, last-lap battle with Chase Elliott ( Hendrick Motorsports ) in the final segment of the Sprint Showdown preliminary event earlier in the day. The damage done to his car kept his team busy throughout the afternoon, but by the time the red-and-white entry rolled through pre-race inspection for the main event, it looked good as new. And it ran that way, too. RELATED: Larson edges out Elliott " See frame-by-frame of the finish "They worked their tails off after I got all the damage in the Showdown," he said. "We had a really, really good Target Chevy and were able to get to the front pretty quick there to be in the best position possible there for the last restart." After starting the race 18th , Larson ended the first 50-lap segment inside the top 10. He eventually took the lead on Lap 94 and was the race leader after 100 laps had been completed to end the second segment. He restarted third for the final 13-lap dash after only two drivers, Jimmie Johnson ( Hendrick Motorsports ) and Kyle Busch ( Joe Gibbs Racing ), running 12th and 13th respectively, were re-slotted to the front. The top 11 were required to pit. "I was getting looser throughout the race," Larson said. "We were making adjustments but weren't making big enough ones. I just got loose and Joey caught me. "He did a really good job side-drafting me. I tried to hang on his quarter panel like I did with Chase earlier today. I got really loose as soon as I got in the corner." Logano said he knew Larson would "try to suck me around from the outside and I knew I had to drive in to make sure he didn't do that. "Just good hard racing there at the end. It was a lot of fun. He's a heck of a racer. He's going to win a lot of races, that's for sure." Kasey Kahne ( Hendrick Motorsports ) was the last driver to win the Sprint All-Star Race despite not automatically qualifying for it (and having to race in the preliminary event) heading into the weekend, accomplishing the feat in 2008. (Kahne won the Sprint Fan Vote that year.) "I thought clean air would be everything there on four tires," Larson said. "Joey was just really good there that last run; I thought I was better than him most of the race. I don't know, I feel bad. But it's good that we have fast race cars right now. "Just really, really proud of everybody on this team. We were pretty down earlier in the year but we've got cars now and confidence and one of these days it will all come together."
Edwards tops All-Star practice; Kes posts identical speed
RELATED: Full practice results Carl Edwards topped the charts in Saturday's extended Sprint All-Star Race practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a speed of 192.027 mph in his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Brad Keselowski posted an identical speed as Edwards in his No. 2 Team Penske Ford but was officially scored second in the practice session because of owner points. Rounding out the top five were Denny Hamlin (No. 11 JGR Toyota, 191.904 mph), Kurt Busch (No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, 191.795 mph) and Joey Logano (No. 22 Team Penske Ford 191.700 mph). Sprint Cup Series points leader Kevin Harvick was seventh-fastest with a speed of 191.008 mph in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Practice was halted for dampness on the 1.5-mile track with 16 minutes left in the session. It eventually got back underway with a 10-minute session that included practice for Sprint All-Star qualifying, which includes a four-tire pit stop with no speed limit on pit road. Some Sprint Cup cars will be back on the track for the Sprint Showdown (FS1) as those who are not yet in the Sprint All-Star Race field attempt to gain entry by winning one of three segments (20 laps, 20 laps, 10 laps).
Teams seek final rules clarity before Sprint All-Star Race
CONCORD, N.C. -- Questions about gamesmanship and tire requirements dotted the drivers' meeting before Saturday's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, prompting several "what-if" scenarios for the annual non-points event. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Managing Director Richard Buck spelled out the race's unique procedures in a nearly six-minute instructional in the Charlotte Motor Speedway garage, but there was conjecture about some of the rules. Teams will compete in three segments (50 laps, 50 laps, 13 laps), with pit road closing on Lap 85 of the second segment. The top nine, 10 or 11 cars -- the number is selected by random draw during the Lap 100 break before the 13-lap final shootout -- will be required to pit for four tires. The basis for the format is to spice up the running order, putting cars with fresher tires behind those in front with older rubber for the dash to the finish. Chad Knaus, crew chief for the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet driven by Jimmie Johnson , was the first to ask about the requirement in the question-and-answer session that followed. "I got a little lost there through some of that," Knaus said, before asking Buck if a caution flag during the final 13-lap segment would allow all teams to stop and change tires if they were damaged by an incident. "There's many scenarios there," Buck said. "The premise is to have cars with 15-laps-old tires on them and cars behind them with new tires on them. We will not permit gaming of that. If we have an incident, for an example, we will have to go red and clean it up, we'll take care of that situation, we'll come back to it and then allow the teams to pit on or around (Lap) 85, wherever that may be, or any circumstance like that." Kyle Busch piped up: "That didn't answer the question. Chad's talking about in the last segment, in the last 13 laps if there's a wreck, not after Lap 85 in the second segment, you follow? He's asking about 100 and 113." Buck told the room that the field would not be allowed to take tires. Pressed by Busch about whether tires flat-spotted in a spin or damaged by running over debris would be fair game for a change, Buck replied: "That's EIRI (except in rare instances). Like I said, we'll manage that from the tower." Defending race winner Denny Hamlin , Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, was the next to raise his hand, asking whether the "100 percent rule" requiring competitors to race at their fullest ability was in effect. Buck replied in the affirmative. The question was prompted by suggestions that drivers might hold back and aim for 12th place or further back before the final segment, allowing them to have the benefit of four fresh tires for the final shootout. The "100 percent rule" was added in September 2013 in the wake of the Richmond scandal, where the former Michael Waltrip Racing team was penalized for attempting to manipulate the race results. Buck also said in his explanation of rules that NASCAR officials would make a mandatory lug-nut check during the two breaks between segments. Buck said the penalty for missing or loose lug nuts not fastened up against the wheel will require the offending team to remedy the issue, sending them to the tail of field.