After a historic 19-win NASCAR Cup Series season in 2019 – including Kyle Busch’s second series championship – the Joe Gibbs Racing organization is still largely fine-tuning its winning form this year.
Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, won his second consecutive Daytona 500 to open the season in the same triumphant way JGR closed out the 2019 season. But since that race, JGR has found itself in a bit of catch-up mode – not always of its own doing.
Three JGR drivers – Busch, Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. – qualified for the Championship 4 season finale last year. But after four races this season, not a single JGR driver is ranked among the top 10 in the NASCAR Cup Series standings.
Hamlin is 11th, 53 points off the leader Kevin Harvick, who was the fourth member of the Championship 4 last year. Reigning series champ Busch is ranked 12th, also 53 points back. Truex is ranked 15th, 68 points off Harvick and Jones is 21st, 87 points off the title pace.
Only Hamlin has won a stage this year (one). His 79 laps out front – all in his Daytona win – are the most for any Gibbs driver. Truex has led only 15 laps, Busch has led only 14 laps and Jones has not been out front yet.
This is his first season for Truex without longtime crew chief Cole Pearn, so there is a natural learning curve for the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He has yet to earn a top 10 and has two DNFs in four races. But the good news is Truex has a good history at this week’s Atlanta Motor Speedway venue and was the race runner-up just last spring. He leads all drivers in laps run in the top 15 at Atlanta (80.7 percent) and quality passes (883). He’s scored top-10 finishes in nine of his 21 starts.
Busch leads the Gibbs’ contingent with two wins (2008 and 2013) at Atlanta. The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has five top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 21 races there, and was sixth at Atlanta last year.
Hamlin’s victory at Atlanta came in 2012. He has four top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 20 starts there.
Jones has only three Atlanta starts, but the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has never finished worse than 14th (first start in 2017). He has one top 10 in three races and was a career best seventh there last spring.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!