JGR juggernaut’s toughest challenges could come from within
TALLADEGA, Ala. — Car owner Joe Gibbs says it gets easier for his team now.
All four Joe Gibbs Racing cars advanced to the Round of 8 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Never has an organization held half the remaining eight spots in the Chase since the elimination-style format debuted in 2014.
“I think from here on out, it’s pretty easy,’’ Gibbs said of managing four teams as they race for a title. “Everybody is geared up and is going for a win. That’s the game plan.’’
In others words, it should be just like what it has been all season.
Of course, with more at stake, more than fenders can be bruised among teammates — just look at Kevin Harvick confronting teammate Kurt Busch after Sunday’s race on pit road.
Remember, Carl Edwards bumped Kyle Busch out of the way on the last lap to win at Richmond in the spring. If it can happen then, what’s not to say it couldn’t happen now?
“We compete hard,’’ Edwards said of racing teammates in the upcoming round. “We work hard beforehand to help each other prepare. We battle hard on the racetrack. If we can keep it at the level we’ve had all year, it’s going to be great. There’s no reason all four of these cars can’t be in the race at Homestead.’’
But can four teams truly survive each other to make it to Miami in less than a month?
“You hope that the racing doesn’t change,’’ Matt Kenseth said. “I think it’s just business as usual.’’
Just as challenging could be what this means for the other four teams vying for the championship. Joe Gibbs Racing’s four teams have combined to win 11 of 32 races this season. JGR cars already have won this season at the next two tracks — Busch won at Martinsville and Texas in the spring.
Left to compete against the JGR cars for the title are Harvick and Kurt Busch for Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson and Team Penske’s Joey Logano. They have combined for 10 wins this season.
Logano’s car owner, Roger Penske, isn’t worried about facing all four Gibbs cars with just one car left in the Chase.
“They’re going to be fighting each other, which is important,’’ Penske told NBC Sports. “Quite honestly, how do you keep all four of those guys under the roof, where we have all of our efforts on Joey and certainly Brad (Keselowski) will do everything he can to help him.
“We’ve raced these guys all year long. They’ve been tough. Jimmie Johnson, don’t count him out. Kurt Busch … we know is a heck of a driver, and Harvick is probably one of the best.’’
Johnson, Harvick and Logano each won in the last round. A Joe Gibbs Racing driver hasn’t won in the first six races of the Chase. The team’s last victory was by Hamlin at Richmond, the final race before the playoffs began.
Even so, Busch and Kenseth both were the only drivers to finish in the top 10 in each of the first five Chase races. That streak ended Sunday when they joined Edwards in riding at the back all day at Talladega. Kenseth was 28th, Edwards 29th and Busch 30th.
That’s all they needed to do to advance. Now, it will take much more, and they could be racing teammates for the final transfer spot.