Pedley: Controversy Could Make JGR A Stronger Contender
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Up until late afternoon on Sunday, the Joe Gibbs Racing-haters were having themselves a big old time. Their quest for gotchas was going great and they were plucking the low-hanging fruit of spite by the bushel.
Then Denny Hamlin and his No. 11 JGR had to go and spoil it all by putting on a masterful showing and winning at Michigan.
Now it looks like Gibbs will have two of its three drivers in the Chase And perhaps, even Hamlin’s goal of being in the top five in points when the Sprint Cup Series hits Richmond in September will be realized.
In the wake of Michigan, Team Snots could be turning into Team Hots.
“I feel like over the last six to seven weeks, we’ve been as good as anyone,” Hamlin, whose win at MIS was his first of the season, said. “Feels good to get a win after sneaking up on everyone. When we go to these race tracks that we won at before, everyone expects us to win. We expect ourselves to win. We just had little bugs that kept us from doing that. This one we just snuck in there.”
The weeks – indeed the hours – leading up to the start of the Michigan race, were not wonderful for a JGR operation which has won three Cup championships in its 19 years of existence.
There was Hamlin’s failure to live up to his 2010 numbers on the track – heading to Week 15 a year ago, he had already won four races and then he won again on Week 15.
There was the fact that Joey Logano and his No. 20 team were not within sight of the top 10 in points nor a race victory – which lead to rumors that his Cup-winning crew chief wants to bail.
There was Kyle Busch, who was acting like Kyle Busch on the stat sheets (showing the best skills in the sport) and like Kyle Busch on the rap sheets (he was put on probation after a run-in with Kevin Harvick at Darlington). And then, of course was his famous skirmish with Richard “Papa Hemingway” Childress at Kansas.
Then there was 128-gate on a back road near Charlotte for Busch.
And finally, on Friday at Michigan, there was the JGR organization’s run-in with NASCAR officials – all three of the Gibbs cars showed up at MIS with oil pans which were likely legal but had not been NASCAR approved.
Team president J.G. Gibbs issued a red-faced mea culpa on that last one after the race.
“For us, the oil pan thing ultimately was our responsibility to get…when it says things approved by NASCAR, every piece has to be approved by NASCAR,” Gibbs said. “A lot of times we bring stuff to the track. They’ll say, Hey, run it this week, don’t bring it back, make these changes to it. Our fault was thinking we would have that conversation. When we got here, they didn’t like it. I think they thought it was a different issue than it actually wound up being.
“The reality of it is it was our fault for not bringing it to them and laying it out. It’s a good lesson learned. Also having those communications ahead of time. We want to be in this sport, we want to be here with integrity and do things the right way. We made mistakes in the past as a team and I’m sure we’ll make mistakes in the future. If we can’t conduct ourselves in the right way, there’s no use in us doing this. It’s a wake-up call for us to make sure we do a better job before bringing parts to the track.”
Never mind that other teams have been caught in the “non-approved” dragnet, the anti-Gibbs crowd went into a serious group tsk-tsk mode.
Then the green flag dropped at MIS and JGR had a heluva good! day.
Hamlin got the victory and moved into the top 10 in points.
Busch finished third, led 59 laps, got his series-leading (he is tied, actually, with points leader Carl Edwards) eighth top-five finish and ran his streak of races not on probation to one.
After the race, Hamlin was asked if he thought the controversies wafting around JGR and its people have brought the organization closer together.
“I mean really the last few weeks, yeah, I’ve seen him a lot more than I have a lot,” Hamlin said. “I think a lot of it is you come to realize that you need your teammates to help you perform better.
“We’ve been to a couple really strong tracks here these last few weeks and he’s kind of picked my brain quite a bit. I’ve given him every bit of information I have on them. He’s obviously had two consecutive top-three finishes at those tracks that he’s not necessarily been the best at in the past. So he’s using that knowledge to his advantage.
“Trust me, when I go to a road course or something like that, I’m going to be on him trying to find that same information.
“That’s what we did I think at the beginning of our relationship really, really well, was that we pushed each other to be better. I think we’re starting to get back to that right now, just using every bit of information we can from each other because he knows that I’m good at some racetracks and I know that he’s good at other ones that I struggle at.”
“In order for us to get closer together and start using each other’s setups, we’ve got to get on the same page.”
That would be a yes answer.
So the point is that Hamlin and Busch and their teams have not always been same-pagers. They have not only cold-shouldered each other at tracks and, reportedly, at the shops, they have engaged in terse words and unfriendly deeds.
Busch actually threatened Hamlin and that was during a non-points All-Star event.
A suddenly harmonious JGR operation could prove counter productive. Maybe that bunch needs some tension to be at its competitive best. Sports is rife with examples of those kinds of situations.
Or, harmony could produce success by the bushel. Multi-headed monsters can be quite formidable – remember how King Ghidorah gave Godzilla all he wanted for, like, a whole hour.
And if JGR should come out of its troubles stronger than ever, well, haters of the team will still not be completely dead in the water. They still will have Logano to poop on. For now.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment