Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Analysis: Joe Gibbs Racing hot heading into Darlington – NASCAR

Analysis: Joe Gibbs Racing hot heading into Darlington – NASCAR
29 Aug

There’s a first time for everything, especially when details are so specific.

And for the first time in NASCAR history, a team has three drivers with four wins each through 24 races in a single season. Think about that: One team can stake claim on half the victories this year. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are to thank for that milestone, combing for 12 checkered flags.

POWER RANKINGS: Bristol to Darlington

To quickly rehash who won what and where: Hamlin got things started at the Daytona 500, then he also made it to Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway (second race) and Bristol Motor Speedway (second race). Busch went back-to-back at ISM Raceway and Auto Club Speedway and then won the first races at Bristol Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway. Truex’s first win was at Richmond Raceway, followed by Dover International Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Sonoma Raceway.

Hamlin is the most recent winner – the Bristol Night Race was two weeks ago, right before the off weekend. Truex last won June 23. Busch goes even further back to June 2.

This weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway, where the trio combines for four wins total, for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Hamlin won in 2010 and 2017. Truex was the 2016 winner. Busch’s crown jewel Darlington win dates back more than a decade – 2008.

Truex was racing for Furniture Row Racing at the time of his Darlington triumph, and that team was a JGR affiliate.

So, taking that fact into consideration, JGR and company have essentially won four of the last six races at Darlington. Make that six of the last 11, going back to Busch’s win. To ignore the affiliation, just subtract a win – Truex’s – from those numbers.

JGR is good for six Darlington victories overall on its own. The others came from Bobby Labonte in 2000, Matt Kenseth in 2013 and Carl Edwards in 2015. (Just to note: Hendrick Motorsports has the most at 14.) It wouldn’t be surprising if that tally goes up to seven this weekend.

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Hamlin has the best all-time average finish at Darlington – 6.2 in 13 starts – and has only ended outside the top 10 twice in his career. Truex and Busch have finished 11th or better in the last four races there. Busch stretches that to nine races, too.

And then there’s the fourth driver at JGR: Erik Jones, who has yet to win a race this season.

With only two Darlington starts under his belt, Jones holds the second-best average finish (6.5). He was fifth in 2017 and eighth in 2018. Even in the Xfinity Series he never wound up outside the top 10 at this track.

The 1.366-miler in South Carolina is one of two regular-season races left before the 16-driver playoff field is set. Obviously Hamlin, Busch and Truex have solidified their spots in the postseason with their respective wins. Busch sits first in the championship standings with 932 points, while Hamlin is third (855) and Truex is fourth (838). Jones is further down in 14th with 646 points – safe, for now.

Jones can clinch a spot in the 2019 NASCAR Playoffs at Darlington if he scores 54 points and a winner repeats or if he scores 54 points and Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, William Byron, Aric Almirola or Ryan Newman wins. Jones could also clinch with a new winner and subpar performances by his closest competition. Or, simply put, he can win his way in.

Not a single multi-car team right now has had all of its drivers make it to Victory Lane, but Joe Gibbs Racing is closing in on just that.



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