To say it was an up and down day for Joe Gibbs Racing at Bristol Motor Speedway Sunday is an understatement. While JGR driver Carl Edwards celebrated his first victory of the year the other three drivers in the four car stable had days they would rather soon forget.
The trouble started early and began with defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch, winner of two straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. He saw his streak snapped after flat tires sent him into the wall. He blew a right front tire while running third on lap 52 and hit the wall bringing out the first of 15 cautions. He would later spin exiting turn 2 after contact with another car and bringing out caution three. He was able to continue but sent to the rear of the field due to a speeding penalty. Then on lap 260 Busch again lost a tire and hit the wall hard.
“We just kept getting tighter in the long run,” Busch said as his crew tried to repair his car in the garage. “Our car was really good yesterday and we were fast in practice and fast again today. We came from the back to the front a few times and probably one of the few cars able to do that today with as hard as it is the pass. I hate it for all these M&M’s guys and our fans and everybody for us not being out there anymore. I guess today just wasn’t meant to be.”
His final meeting with the wall caused damage was too severe. Busch finished the day in the garage and in 38th place.
“Once I got single file there after that last restart I was just cruising,” Busch said. “I was just riding along and the car felt fine. I don’t know why it kept getting tighter and why we were blowing right fronts.”
Another Joe Gibbs driver, Matt Kenseth took the lead on lap 44 and would go on to lead the second most laps of the day, 142. On lap 187, he too lost a tire. Like his teammate, the damage from the first blown tire was minimal and after repairs, Kenseth was able to continue. He was back to third by lap 323, but lost another tire and hit the wall. There was no caution but Kenseth was forced behind the wall for repairs effectively ending his chances for a win; he finished 36th. Kenseth couldn’t understand what had happened.
“I don’t know why, I’m not a tire expert,” Kenseth said. “Just blew a right front (tire) two different times, two different corners. This one was a lot worse because the angle was a lot worse headed towards the wall. Honestly, that run I was backing up and I wasn’t really going to go fast. Kurt (Busch) was catching me and I was ready to kind of let him go around and pace it to see how long we could make it then just blew another one. Not sure why, we weren’t having any big handling problems or brakes hot. I don’t know why. Hopefully we’ll get it figured out for next time.”
Denny Hamlin was running in the top five at one point. He suffered damage on pit road however during a pit stop then on lap 410, he hit the wall to bring out caution 11. Hamlin would be the only other JGR driver besides race winner Edwards to finish on the lead lap, in 20th. For race winner Edwards, the thought of his teammates having issues did occur but it was his crew chief Dave Rogers that kept him focused.
“I have the best teammates in the business, and if they can have trouble, I can surely have trouble,” Edwards said. “I was nervous about it, but Dave did a good job of talking to me about how hard we were pushing the tires and what we had going on there, so I felt pretty comfortable after talking to Dave after a couple stops.”
For team owner Joe Gibbs Sunday’s victory by Edwards helped with the disappointment of seeing his other cars suffer. It’s something the former NFL coach has seen in his career.
“I think in our sport, obviously we have four teammates, they all work together,” Gibbs said. “I’ll tell you, our technical meetings on Tuesdays are great. You hear the crew chiefs and drivers share everything. I think also with the 78 car in there, I think this sport takes a total team effort by everybody trying to solve problems.”
“So yes, the answer is when you leave the racetrack, the first thing on my mind right now is Matt,” he added. “Every single week he’s been up front, had a chance, I think, to lead laps and have a chance to win, and something happens to him. So you feel awful. You call him on the way home… And Denny, of course, and Kyle today.”
“So it is in some ways, it’s a thrill, though, to win, and to see Comcast and everybody with us in the winner’s circle, you know, that’s certainly a high,” Gibb said. “And I think the other guys — as soon as I go to them, I’ve gone to Carl when it’s Denny winning or whatever, and he says, hey, go get in the winner’s circle. They really, I think have great respect for each other, and they understand that they have teammates, and real good teammates. So it’s a thrill for me to see the chemistry, the way it’s working right now for us.”