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Carl Edwards: Joe Gibbs Racing’s 1.5-mile track program has “shifted” going into Duck Commander 500

STP 500 - Qualifying

STP 500 - Qualifying

NASCAR via Getty Images

FORT WORTH - It’s taken a while, but Joe Gibbs Racing might have found its way in 2015.

JGR has been a team in transition this season with Carl Edwards’ arrival from Roush Fenway Racing, and Kyle Busch suffering a broken right leg and fractured left foot in the season-opening Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway. The team contended for a win at Auto Club Speedway with Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth before both were taken out of contention - Hamlin by hitting the wall and Kenseth by an axle failure during a pit stop under a late caution after he’d been leading.

“I would’ve said a couple of weeks ago you could really tell where everyone was at,” Edwards said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “In our case, (Joe Gibbs Racing) ran really well at California as a group. We didn’t because I tore up the good car in practice, but we ran really well as a group and then we went to Martinsville and Denny got the win.”

Hamlin’s Martinsville win gave JGR its first Victory Lane trip since his win at Talladega Superspeedway in May 2014.

Now comes Texas Motor Speedway, the third 1.5-mile track the Sprint Cup series has visited this year and the last until Kansas Speedway in four weeks. Texas is a track Edwards has had a fair amount of success at, winning in 2005 and sweeping the events in 2008.

“I love the race track, the way it drives,” Edwards said. “The way the Goodyear tires interact with the surface, the bumps, all that stuff. It’s a lot of fun.”

However, Edwards hasn’t won at a 1.5-mile track since Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March 2011. JGR’s last win at such a track came with Hamlin in the 2013 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Our program kind of shifted,” Edwards said. “I think this week will be the big test for us on 1.5-mile (tracks). I can’t speak for the whole field, but I think there are a lot of people that are really innovating right now. I think you’re going to see some shift in speed and advantage throughout the field.

“A lot of people are working on a lot of things, and I believe it will look a little differently here in the next few months.”

Edwards’ crew chief, Darian Grubb, believes JGR has enough time and information to fix any problems at Texas in time for the Kansas race.

“We’ve got a lot of development going on within Joe Gibbs Racing ourselves, and everybody is in the same boat,” Grubb said. “We’ve ran a few races, and we’ve got two 1.5-mile tracks under our belt, so now we think we’ve learned a little bit. So we’re going to try and apply a lot of those lessons now and it will carry into those future races.”

The first six races also were devoted to teams tackling a new rules package that reduced horsepower by 125 and downforce by 24 percent from last year. But Grubb commended the work done by Toyota Racing Development on intermediate tracks (1.5 to 2 miles in length) since the middle of last season.

“I feel like we’re right there in contention now,” Grubb said. “We definitely had a little bit of speed to search for at the beginning of the season. At California (and) Atlanta, we showed some of that speed, we just didn’t get the finishes the team wanted.”

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