Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Texas Presents Turnaround Opportunity for Joe Gibbs Racing
Joe Gibbs Racing emerged as the most dominant team in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last season. A total of 12 wins and placing two championship contenders in the season finale at Homestead-Miami attested to their strength.
Six races into 2017, it’s apparent JGR isn’t displaying the dominance that defined its 2016 season.
At this time last year, JGR had 11 top-five finishes and two wins. Through the same number of races in 2017, they have three top-five results and no visits to victory lane.
Texas Motor Speedway may be the perfect place for the organization to mount a turnaround. JGR swept last season’s events with Kyle Busch winning in April and Carl Edwards in November.
Busch’s victory capped off a race dominated by Toyota. Martin Truex Jr. led a race-high 141 laps, Edwards paced the field for 124 and Busch was out front for 34 as he captured back-to-back wins. The event kicked off a string of four wins in the next five races. Edwards won two consecutive events at Bristol and Richmond, Busch captured his first career Kansas victory, and Matt Kenseth won at Dover.
JGR seemed unstoppable following this winning streak. However, a year later, they seem unable to match this level of performance.
When NASCAR introduced the current rules package in three events at both Michigan races and Kentucky last season, JGR struggled.
Whether they opted to place more focus on performing well in 2016 rather than fine-tuning the 2017 lower downforce package, or just didn’t hit on what works best, they weren’t up to par with other teams.
Edwards came home highest among all JGR drivers in these events, scoring three top-10 results. Besides Edwards, only one other JGR car finished in the top-10 as Denny Hamlin placed ninth at Michigan in August.
When the package was first utilized this season at Atlanta, only one JGR team placed inside the top-15 as Kenseth finished third. Busch has been the only driver to lead a double digit amount of laps this season as he led 114 at Phoenix and 274 last weekend at Martinsville.
These struggles have been reflected in the points standings as Busch sits sixth, Hamlin 16th, Daniel Suarez 21st, and Matt Kenseth 22nd. While Suarez continues adjusting in his first full-time season, Hamlin and Kenseth deep in the standings is a combination of bad luck and uncharacteristic performances.
Now with the new surface and reconfiguration of Turns 1 and 2 at Texas, many unknowns exist heading into the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. This will likely even the playing field and give JGR the opportunity to rebound.
Success on Sunday and beyond in the upcoming races will be very telling. JGR has won two consecutive spring races at Bristol, and Edwards and Busch went head-to-head on the final lap last April at Richmond before Edwards bumped Busch high off the final corner to win.
The variety of tracks on the schedule over the next month will also aid the evaluation as a 1.5-mile track, two short tracks, and restrictor plate event at Talladega will test many elements of the organization’s performance.
While it’s too early to determine whether JGR’s current struggles will have a lasting impact throughout the season, this next month of competition will be crucial for them to show signs of improvement.
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