ThatsRacin

JGR has 4 chances at bringing home NASCAR Chase title

Defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch, from left, along with Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards three of Joe Gibbs Racing’s drivers in the hunt for this year’s championship.
Defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch, from left, along with Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards three of Joe Gibbs Racing’s drivers in the hunt for this year’s championship. Getty Images

NASCAR’s power teams are well-represented in the third round of the Chase.

That’s especially true at Joe Gibbs Racing, which will make up half the field because all four of the Toyota outfit’s teams advanced: Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and reigning champion Kyle Busch.

Here’s a look at the four teams still involved in the playoffs and how they got here:

Joe Gibbs Racing (4)

It should be no surprise that JGR has 100 percent participation. The team is responsible for winning more than one-third of the season’s races (11 of 32) so far. Busch has won four, Hamlin three, and Edwards and Kenseth two each.

There have been no JGR victories in the Chase yet, and Hamlin scraped into the third round by the slimmest of margins ahead of Austin Dillon.

Busch, Edwards and Kenseth don’t exactly bring a lot of momentum into the round of eight, as they rode around near the back of the pack last weekend at Talladega to make sure they stayed safely inside the cut line.

“I think guys would rather be in the situation where they feel like they’ve got to go win,” team owner Joe Gibbs said after the Talladega race. “I think the drivers kind of all feel that way, but at the same time it’s a playoff and you’ve got to say what is smart and so you certainly don’t want to make a big mistakes of some kind and cost (you).”

Stewart-Haas Racing (2)

Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch made it, but is everything OK between the SHR teammates?

Busch, for some reason, slammed his No. 41 Chevy in to Harvick’s No. 4 Chevy on the post-race cool-down lap at Talladega. That prompted Harvick to reach into Busch’s cockpit and shove him on pit road.

“He has a misunderstanding of the call at the end of the race,” Busch said. “He will understand it. ... We are great teammates. We are doing good together. We have to work together to beat all these other teams out there, and he knows that.”

Said Harvick: “The final laps, everybody is just pushing and shoving, and then he cleaned the side of our car out after the checkered flag. I don’t really understand that, but all-in-all the ... team did a great job and we didn’t have a scratch on it until then.”

Hendrick Motorsports (1)

Jimmie Johnson is the only Hendrick driver still alive in the Chase after rookie Chase Elliott was eliminated at Talladega. For Johnson, who qualified for the third round with a victory at Charlotte, it’s all about going after his seventh championship, which would tie Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty atop NASCAR’s all-time list.

“We kind of knew who it would be and who we expected to be in the hunt,” said Johnson. “It’s time to go racing. We will see what happens in these next three races.”

Team Penske (1)

For a while at Talladega, it looked like both Penske drivers – Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano – would make it through. Then Keselowski, who was outside the cut line entering the race, blew an engine after leading a race-high 90 laps, ending his day and his title hopes.

Logano went on to win the race, just like he did at Talladega in the 2015 Chase. This year, however, he’s not entering the third round on a three-race roll like he was last season, when he swept all three second-round races.

Team owner Roger Penske thinks having just one car advance might work to his team’s advantage.

“The good news is you don’t have four people that you’re trying to work with going into the Chase,” Penske said. “We can put all our efforts on one car, Joey. Of course, Brad is one of the biggest supporters on the team for Joey. I think that will pay dividends for us.”

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