Joe Gibbs Racing is NASCAR’s top team, but how long can it stay No. 1?
Joe Gibbs Racing couldn’t have started without help from Hendrick Motorsports. Twenty-five years after receiving a starter kit of cars and equipment, Gibbs has supplanted Hendrick as NASCAR’s top organization.
They’ll duel the next two weekends at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a track Hendrick cars have won a record 18 points races and eight All-Star races, while Gibbs cars have won five points races and one All-Star Race.
Yet, in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately category, Gibbs dominates.
Joe Gibbs Racing enters Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race having won each of the sport’s six most prominent races within the last year: 2015 All-Star Race (Denny Hamlin), 2015 Coca-Cola 600 (Carl Edwards), 2015 Brickyard 400 (Kyle Busch), 2015 Southern 500 (Edwards), 2015 championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Busch) and the 2016 Daytona 500 (Hamlin).
No team has owned all those trophies at one time since Hendrick Motorsports did it in 2012-13 but Hendrick didn’t win the ’12 title as Gibbs won last year’s crown.
“I’m very aware the advantage we have right now at JGR,’’ Edwards said. “Even though it’s slim, it is an advantage, but they’re fleeting. We’ve got to keep pushing. We know these other teams are targeting us.’’
Joe Gibbs Racing’s advantage — seven wins in the season’s first 12 points races — and his own team’s recent struggles are wearing on Hendrick driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. He voiced his frustration on his weekly podcast.
“I know our fans are really disappointed, and they see the Gibbs guys doing well,’’ Earnhardt said on the Dale Jr. Download. “It’s obvious to us whose doing good and who’s not. We understand that we have lost a little bit of something. These last four or five weeks have bene miserable.’’
It’s been longer for many. Gibbs cars have won six of the last seven races. The only race a JGR car didn’t win in that span was at Talladega and Kyle Busch finished second.
“I don’t want to hear about people complaining because we’re on top and we’re dominating and we’re bad for the sport, because I remember years that Hendrick won 12, 13, 14 races and (six) of eight championships or something like that. So it’s our turn now. Let’s hope we can have it stay for a while.’’
But Busch also knows that the seeds of this success were sown two years ago when Gibbs was struggling. JGR cars won two races in 2014 (Hendrick cars won 13 races that year). Even until Hamlin’s win in last year’s All-Star race, Gibbs cars were not particularly feared.
“I just think when we were behind on the engine side, we worked on our cars, our setups, on driver-crew chief communications, all that stuff to get our cars better,’’ Busch said. “When the engines came, it was all there. We had the total package.
“I feel like we’ve been able to take advantage of that the last couple of years of having all the right pieces in the right places, and Hendrick have had that. They’ve had great engines, they’ve had great cars, and now it’s time for them to go to work in one of those areas in order to get better.’’
Another reason for the success is the team’s partnership with Furniture Row Racing. Busch had said previously that he didn’t feel there was a close enough working relationship with fellow Toyota team Michael Waltrip Racing.
That doesn’t seem to be an issue with Furniture Row Racing, which joined the Toyota lineup before the start of this season. Martin Truex Jr. nearly won the Daytona 500 and has had cars capable of winning the past two races. A part failure on pit road and getting collected in a crash kept him from winning those races. Still, what he and his team have added has proved valuable to JGR.
“They have brought some things to the table that have helped our game,’’ said Jimmy Makar, senior vice president of racing operations at JGR on Furniture Row. “I feel the same thing from us to them. I think both of our teams will become stronger as the year goes on.
“We share setup books. The drivers share driving comments. We brought them in just like a fifth team to Joe Gibbs Racing. That’s why I think it works.’’
That’s not a good sign for other teams. Since last year’s Coca-Cola 600, Joe Gibbs Racing has won 19 of the last 37 Sprint Cup points races.
“What you’re seeing is with that many cars with that much speed on a weekly basis, you can have one or two cars have a bad race because your other two or three are going to be there to pick up the pieces and race for a win,’’ Hamlin said.
“It’s hard to get all the cars running well at the same time. But obviously JGR has done a great job of that.’’
The question is how much longer will Joe Gibbs Racing dominate?