ThatsRacin

Inside the championship blueprint Joe Gibbs Racing is following to make NASCAR history

Who are the Championship drivers at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ 2018 season comes to a close Sunday with the Ford EcoBoost 400. Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are all in title contention.
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The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ 2018 season comes to a close Sunday with the Ford EcoBoost 400. Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are all in title contention.

Right now, we’re seeing something seldom done in NASCAR before.

In fact, it’s only happened one other time in the sport’s modern history.

Back in 2007, behind the dominant 1-2 punch of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports rolled off an impressive eight wins in the first 11 races of the Cup Series season. It was the only time that feat had been accomplished in the modern era, and the first at all since 1957 — which, by the way, was the year construction started on Daytona International Speedway.

Johnson would go on to win his first of five consecutive championships, while Gordon finished second in the overall points standings. It was one of the more dominant campaigns by any single team in NASCAR’s legendary past.

So... are we seeing the same thing right now with Joe Gibbs Racing?

After Martin Truex Jr.’s second win of the season on Monday, which came in a rain-delayed Dover race where he owned the final stage, JGR now has seven wins in the first 11 races of the year. Two of those belong to Truex, two to Daytona 500 champ Denny Hamlin, and three more to Kyle Busch. They’ve been not only the most complete, but the most well-rounded team thus far.

The question then becomes: Is JGR on the same championship path as Hendrick back in 2007?

HMS followed up its impressive start in 2007 by winning 10 of the season’s final 25 races. That’s 18 wins in 36 races — one team, half the wins for the entire year. Again, darned impressive.

To expect Joe Gibbs Racing to do the same, even as good as it’s been so far, would be ambitious. That has less to do with JGR’s drivers or cars and much more to do with their competition — Team Penske has three wins between Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, while Chase Elliott is quietly turning the corner at HMS. Even if Busch, Truex and Hamlin keep doing what they’re doing, given NASCAR’s current playoff system and parity, it would be an uphill climb for that trio to reach 10 more wins.

More likely, JGR parlays this early-season success into a cushion come playoff time. With all three of those drivers currently in the Top 5 in the points standings, it seems to reason that the trio could qualify for the final eight playoff drivers. Out of that mix, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see two of them — my money would be on Busch and Truex — to make the championship four. No team has had multiple championship contenders since 2016... when JGR had Busch and Carl Edwards.

The championship blueprint is there for the following, even as NASCAR’s rules and teams have shifted over the past decade. Now it’s up to JGR to replicate that plan.

Brendan Marks: (704) 358-5889; @BrendanRMarks

This week’s NASCAR race at Kansas: What you need to know.

Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Digital Ally 400.

Distance: 267 laps, or 400.5 miles.

Where: Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile asphalt tri-oval in Kansas City, Kan.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

TV: FS1.

Radio: MRN.

Last year’s winner: Kevin Harvick.

Worth mentioning: Next season, the first of two races at Kansas Speedway will be moved to the week after the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not

HOT

Martin Truex Jr.: His second win of the year at Dover should eliminate any concerns about transitioning to a new team.

Chase Elliott: He followed up his first win of the year with another Top 5 — is Elliott ready to carry the Hendrick Motorsports banner going forward?

NOT

Denny Hamlin: After eight Top 10s in the first nine races of the year, Hamlin now has back-to-back finishes outside the Top 20.

Austin Dillon: He’s right on the outside of the playoff bubble, and 19th-place finishes aren’t going to get him over the hump.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.


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