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Pedley: Was Winning Decision Good or Lucky?

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 30 2010

Matt Kenseth found the marbles on the final restart at Martinsville and thanks in part to fresh tires, Denny Hamlin found his way to the front of the field. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

J.D. Gibbs got good laughs during a post race interview session at Martinsville Speedway Monday afternoon. But you have to wonder if it was laughs he was going for as he talked about the end of the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500.

You’ve got to wonder what Gibbs’ mood would have been like had Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon opted not to Swiffer the dust off a long-simmering on-track feud on the final restart at Martinsville on Monday.

As it turned out, Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, had the luxury of being able to entertain the media after the race. His driver, Denny Hamlin, had secured JGR’s first victory of the season, another of his drivers (Joey Logano) finished second and his third driver (Kyle Busch) appeared to have a car fast enough to make it an all-Gibbs podium had misfortune not struck late in the day.

So it was a happy J.D. Gibbs who talked about a late-race decision by winning crew chief Mike Ford – a decision that had sent the boys in the television booth into a fit of second-guessing hysterics.

I mean, those boys had Ford sized and fitted for a monkey suit after he called Hamlin – who was race leader and in the fastest car – into the pits for tires in a race which would have just 2 miles to go when it restarted for what, one had to assume, would be the final time.

Hamlin restarted ninth with four laps to go,  but (because of the new tires?) made his way up to fourth by the time the race was flagged yellow once again – a flagging which would set up a green-white-checkered restart.

On that final restart, Gordon, who had taken the lead after Hamlin pittted for his tires the caution before, was bumped by Kenseth. Gordon retaliated, Kenseth re-retaliated and amid all that angst Hamlin blew to the lead and he went on to win.

So, there sat Gibbs in the media center. He didn’t even wait to be asked about the call by Ford.

“For Mike and Denny,” Gibbs said, “I told Mike for the record, I never doubted him. But in reality I was cussing him up top the pit box.”

That’s when Gibbs got the laughs.

But, seriously folks: Gusty call or foolish call?

Gibbs opted to stick with successful call.

“It was one of those things where they trust each other,” Gibbs said. “Mike and Denny, it is what it is, they make their decisions. They’ve been doing this long enough as a team, they have a good feel for what the other one needs. I think he gave Denny what he needed.”

Ford was thrust into the straight man role post race when he was handed the microphone for an explanation/defense of the call.

“Well,” Ford said, “here at Martinsville it’s probably a little bit different. If we’re at Charlotte or somewhere like that, even Phoenix, inside 10 to go here, you start doubling up those cars on the restarts. If we had the situation where it was still the old days where you had one attempt at the green-white-checkered or even before that, you would have stayed out. No doubt about it. If it were single file, it would have been an easy decision.

“Being double file, like Denny mentioned, you know whatever you do, the guys behind you are going to try and play you. So your cards are shown when you commit either way. They’re waiting on you to see what you’re going to do. Their only opportunity to win is to do the opposite.

“The three attempts at a green-white-checkered played into the decision. I figured, OK, we’re down towards the end of the race, you’re stacking new tires up with old tires. Guys are going to get aggressive. Somebody is going to get the short end of the stick on this, and it’s going to be the guys that stayed out.”

Luckily, Ford was correct in his assessment of human nature as it relates to racing automobiles.

Had he not been, Gibbs might have led off his post-race interview by saying, “Take my crew chief. Please.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 30 2010
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