There was an extended stretch during Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 that made team owner Joe Gibbs extremely uneasy.
For 60 consecutive laps, the four drivers in his Joe Gibbs Racing team were running, in various combinations, nose-to-tail in positions 1-4.
The race wouldn’t end that way, but it nearly did. Matt Kenseth would go on to win, with Kyle Busch finishing second, Denny Hamlin sixth and Carl Edwards 11th.
It was another dominant performance for a JGR team that rolled through NASCAR’s regular season and is now primed to make a similar run in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway.
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9 Victories by Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in the past 15 races
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“That is the most nervous that I get in a race, when you’ve got your cars up front and having a good night,” said Gibbs. “It was a thrill seeing ourselves up there.”
All four JGR drivers made the Chase – Busch as the second seed, Kenseth the third seed, Edwards the eighth seed and Hamlin the 11th.
So does Gibbs think there is any chance they could be in the final four when the 10-race Chase ends at Homestead-Miami Raceway in November?
The hardest thing in pro sports is staying up there. So that will be our challenge now.
“Obviously you’d love that,” said Gibbs. “But that’s a dream. It’s hard for a dream to come true. I don’t think anybody here is realistically thinking about that as a possibility. I think there are so many good cars in (the Chase). We were just talking about (Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski). All those cars are capable of winning a championship.”
But it’s not that difficult to imagine if JGR’s cars and drivers continue producing the kind of performances they’ve had over the last 15 races – nine of which have been won by either Busch, Edwards or Kenseth. Hamlin, who is racing with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, was no slouch over that period, with five top-five finishes.
JGR’s latest victory came Saturday when Matt Kenseth won at Richmond
“I feel like as a company right now, all four cars are really strong,” said Kenseth. “We had a lot of different things happen, where all four of us now have been able to win races and we’re all in the Chase. I feel like all four teams are really competitive.”
It has also been a trying year for Gibbs and his team. JGR president J.D. Gibbs (and Joe Gibbs’ son) has undergone treatment for symptoms impacting areas of brain function, including speech and processing issues. Busch missed 11 races after a bad accident in Daytona in February, in which he broke his leg and foot. Then Hamlin injured his knee last week while playing basketball.
“The toughest thing for me has been the things that we’ve been going through with J.D.,” said Gibbs. “Things weren’t going well for us early this year. In life you go through some tough stuff. But also I think in going through some of those tough times, it can really build character, and you get a chance to study everybody. That’s one of the best times to study people, as we know, because human nature being what it is, we have a tough time dealing with adversity.
“But our guys, nobody’s pointing fingers or anything. Everybody was saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to go after this.’ That’s what happened. A lot of hard work. Just like us right now being successful, you know that all those other teams out there, they’re coming. It’s a very competitive thing, pro sports. The hardest thing in pro sports is staying up there. So that will be our challenge now.”