At the season-opening Daytona 500, Joe Gibbs Racing proved it was unquestionably the fastest, from Denny Hamlin taking the checkered flag to its quartet of cars leading more than three-quarters of the race.
It turned out to be a harbinger of things to come.
After watching Kyle Busch drive away from Kevin Harvick to win Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway, Gibbs drivers have won six times in the first 11 races. Everybody on the team has a win except Matt Kenseth, and the former series champion finished a season-best fourth at Kansas.
“The hardest thing in pro sports is to stay up there every week, and right now it’s been a thrill,” Gibbs said after celebrating Busch’s first Sprint Cup win at a track that’s caused him so much trouble.
“In a sport where we have so many great teams, so many great owners – it’s so competitive, it’s so hard to get on a hot streak,” Gibbs said. “I appreciate how nice it is to reel off several wins like this.”
In fact, things have been so good for Gibbs that Martin Truex Jr., whose Furniture Row team has a technical alliance with JGR, might have been the fastest of anybody at Kansas. If it wasn’t for a fluke tire-change issue, he might have been the one celebrating the end of his misfortune there.
That was just about the only lament Gibbs had Saturday night.
“The Gibbs cars are better than everybody pretty much everywhere,” said Brad Keselowski, who has given Penske Racing a pair of victories in Las Vegas and Talladega. “I think that’s pretty obvious.”
Gibbs knows something about dominance, of course. He led the Washington Redskins to three Super Bowl victories and a bunch of other playoff appearances during his NFL coaching career.
This feels like uncharted territory, though.
Busch has led a season-high 679 laps while winning three times, not including his win in the second qualifying duel at Daytona. Carl Edwards has led the second most laps with 626, and he won back-to-back races at Bristol and Richmond. Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited before his Daytona 500 victory.
Although Kenseth is searching for his first win, he has led the fifth most laps of anybody.
“I’m happy for Kyle and them,” Kenseth said Saturday night, after starting right alongside Busch on the final restart. “I thought we were as good as the 18 if we could have had position.”
The fact that Busch finally won at Kansas might be the best proof yet of JGR’s supremacy.
The reigning Sprint Cup champion has had years of disappointment at the track, even joking at one point that it nearly pushed him to retirement. In 2013, Busch wrecked in practice for the spring race, wrecked again in the Truck Series race and then spun twice in the Sprint Cup race, only to crash out of the Chase race later in the fall when he was fifth in the standings.
The year before? Busch was hit from behind by Ryan Newman and crashed out of another race.
“There’s certainly been some tough roads along the way at Kansas, but it’s nice to win this one,” Busch said. “I wouldn’t call it a dream come true, but there’s been some horror dreams here, that’s for sure. It’s nice to have that monkey off your back.”
The only downside, Busch said, is that “there’s no more excuses when we come to Kansas.”
In truth, Busch has been steadily building toward his breakthrough in the heartland. He was third in the fall race two years ago, missed last spring’s race because of injury and was fifth again last fall.
“Third, fifth and first my last three starts?” he said. “I’d say we have something going for us.”
The victory leaves Pocono and Charlotte as the only two tracks on the current schedule where Busch has yet to win a Sprint Cup race. He’ll get his chance at both over the next month.
If he’s not the favorite, there’s a good chance one of his teammates will be.
“It’s a total team effort; I say that all the time,” Gibbs said, “but we got everybody back at the shop working on the cars – it takes all of us to do this. Then to have Kyle as hot as he is right now … has been a thrill.”