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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Improving Now Will Be Crucial for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Playoffs

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An organization that can perform well at 1.5-mile tracks may prove to be more successful than at other layouts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, as a majority of those venues make up half of the playoff races.

It’s crucial for teams to find the best mile-and-a-half setup early in the season to run well once the championship battle begins.

After dominating at intermediate facilities last year, Joe Gibbs Racing has struggled through the first three events in 2017.

The organization had one car finish in the top-10 at Atlanta with Matt Kenseth placing third, two at Las Vegas with Denny Hamlin sixth and Kenseth ninth, and zero in the most recent race at Texas as Kyle Busch finished highest in 15th.

While Atlanta and Las Vegas have only one date on the schedule, their struggles at Texas are most concerning as its second race is in the Round of 8 of the playoffs.

Now with three 1.5-mile events in May beginning this weekend at Kansas Speedway and both of the Monster Energy All-Star and Coca-Cola 600 races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, improving their intermediate program will be vital.

Not only will performing well this month show that JGR has advanced past its early season struggles, but it will provide a basis to build off at Kansas and Charlotte in the playoffs.

Following Charlotte, only one mile-and-a-half track will remain. In July, Kentucky Speedway plays hosts to the final opportunity for intermediate success before the title battle begins at Chicagoland Speedway in September. Teams will want to come out of the gate strong at Chicagoland as it will set the tone for the playoffs, and starting behind the curve will make it difficult to gain any momentum through the final nine races.

Kyle Busch’s victory at Kansas last May should provide confidence heading into Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400. Busch led 69 laps en route to victory, and Martin Truex Jr. paced the field for a race-high 172 laps, showing Toyota’s prowess.

Matt Kenseth also secured a fourth-place finish last year and has yet to finish outside the top-10 in the Kansas May race since joining Joe Gibbs Racing, including a win in his debut year of 2013.

While the team didn’t perform as well in the All-Star Race last year, after Denny Hamlin’s win in 2015, next weekend’s non-points event provides a perfect opportunity to search for the speed that could deliver a Coca-Cola 600 victory the following week.

Toyota’s strength was showcased in the the series’ longest event last year, as Truex Jr. won after leading a record-setting 392 laps. Hamlin and Kenseth each earned top-10 finishes.

Daniel Suarez will visit both tracks for the first time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this month. He finished in the top-10 in each of his two XFINITY Series starts at Kansas, and in three of four races at Charlotte, proving that he knows what it takes to run well at both tracks. 

With a month passing since Texas, JGR has had ample time to target areas of weakness on intermediate tracks and work to improve their package.

Now they will be put to the test at Kansas and Charlotte as they look to return to their dominant ways of 2016 and learn what it will take to succeed at 1.5-mile facilities in the playoffs.



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Jason Schultz

Jason Schultz aspires to enter the public relations field of NASCAR. Schultz, 19, attends UNC Charlotte and is a communication studies major with a focus in public relations. In addition to contributing to POPULAR SPEED, Schultz produces podcasts for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Dirty Mo Radio. He also completed a semester as a social media intern at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Each year, he volunteers as the social media correspondent for Autism Delaware's Drive for Autism golf tournament featuring NASCAR personalities and the AAA 400 Drive for Autism Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover.