The Chase Joe Gibbs Racing Would Just as Soon Forget
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
With three races now completed in this year's "Chase for the Sprint Cup," all three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers - Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart - are for all intents and purposes done in the championship.
After recording eight victories in the regular season, Busch started the "Chase" at New Hampshire with a 30-point lead. But engine and mechanical problems have plagued him in the last three races, resulting in finishes of 34th (New Hampshire), 43rd (Dover) and 28th (Kansas). He is now last in the 12-driver "Chase" standings, 311 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, who won at Kansas.
The tumble in points has been a huge disappointment for Busch, who was a favorite to win the title when the "Chase" began earlier this month.
Stewart dropped four positions to 11th in the "Chase" after a 40th-place run at Kansas. On Lap 129, he made contact with Brian Vickers and slid through the infield grass. Stewart's crew removed grass and other debris from the front end of his car during his pit stop. He had to pit again later, and fell seven laps behind as his crew repaired a broken splitter caused by the incident. Stewart is 255 points behind Johnson.
Denny Hamlin had the best result among Gibbs' drivers at Kansas with an 11th-place finish.
Despite dealing with an ill-handling car, Hamlin had the best result among Gibbs' drivers at Kansas with an 11th-place finish. But he also finished 38th last week at Dover, after suffering rear-end issues during the mid-stages of the race. Hamlin is currently 10th in the rankings (-243).
The battle for this year's Sprint Cup Series championship has come down to Johnson, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, who coincidentally finished one-two- three at Kansas. Just 30 points separate the top-three drivers, with Talladega the next stop on the series schedule.
While it comes as a major surprise to see Busch at the bottom of the standings, it's not as much of a shock to notice where Hamlin and Stewart now rank.
Hamlin struggled to make the "Chase" as he fell to 12th in the standings after a 39th-place finish last month at Michigan. He finished third in the final three races of the regular season to secure him the sixth seed in the playoffs. Hamlin has scored one victory for the season, coming in March at Martinsville, VA.
Stewart has yet to win a race this season, but finished a close second to Johnson earlier this month at Richmond. He would like to notch one more victory for team owner Gibbs before he departs at the end of the season to start his own team.
Gibbs has won three Cup championships this decade, two with Stewart (2002 and '05) and one with Bobby Labonte (2000).
During a season in which JGR has dominated the Nationwide series in record fashion, scoring 17 victories so far this year, the team has experienced a setback in Sprint Cup since the "Chase" began.
In the end, Gibbs will have to find a way to rally his troops in preparation for next season.