The Joe Gibbs Review: Kobalt Tools 400

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR
The Joe Gibbs Racing team faced a second straight week of bittersweet finishes in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Again, the team packed up a car early due to engine failure. Again, the team came to the checkered flag with one car in the top-10.

After only the third race of the season, the team has encountered issues with three engines, one in each Cup car. A troubling reading on the #11 of Denny Hamlin led the team to change out his engine before the start of Sunday’s race, but that luck didn’t extend to the #18 of Kyle Busch who left his hometown track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a DNF.

Kyle Busch, No. 18 Snickers Peanut Butter Squared Toyota (Started: 5, Finished: 38)
With one win at LVMS in 2009, three top fives, and four top-10s, hometown driver Busch was a favorite to win Sunday. Smooth pit stops kept him running in the top-10. On Lap 72, Busch said to his team, "My car is good. It is really good." A tight squeeze past lapped cars Jamie McMurray (#1 McDonald's Chevrolet) and Dave Blaney (#36 Accell Construction Chevrolet) found Busch attempting to chase down race leader Tony Stewart (#14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet) from second place.

The third caution of the day came out on Lap 97 when Busch blew a tire. Good fortune seemed to shine on Busch when track debris was named the official cause of the yellow flag. Had the yellow flag been due to his tire, Busch would not have been eligible for the Lucky Dog (the free lap pass given to the first car one lap down). Busch was granted the free pass and returned to the lead lap.

Seven laps and two yellow flags later, the engine of the #18 blew up and brought out the fifth caution of the race. Fire trailed underneath the car as Busch drove for the garage. Drivers Jeff Gordon (#24 DuPont Chevrolet) and David Gilliland (#34 Taco Bell Ford) joined Busch with tire and engine trouble near the end of the race. All drivers denied any warning of engine or tire trouble.

Busch is 14th in point standings.

Joey Logano, No. 20 Home Depot Toyota (Started: 6, Finished: 23)
Logano's best finish at LVMS came last season when he finished sixth. Throughout the day, Logano ran just inside and just outside of the top-10. Every pit stop found his crew making adjustments to the car. Logano had trouble getting in, through, and out of the turns depending on the adjustment.

Lady Luck seemed to smile on Logano when he restarted sixth after the #14 of Tony Stewart and the #29 Budweiser Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick both recieved penalties on pit road. Logano moved up to fifth, but the car continued to get tighter in the center of the turns. He dropped back to seventh.

Adjustments on lap 198 (under caution number seven brought out by #24 Jeff Gordon) and four new tires put Logano in eighth position on the restart. A three-lap battle with Brian Vickers (#83 Red Bull Toyota) and teammate Denny Hamlin (#11 FedEx Ground Toyota) for eighth ended with Logano settling into ninth between the two cars.

Final green flag pit stops began on lap 234. Logano came in on lap 241 for four tires and fuel, no adjustments. A tire rolled away from the pit box (which could endanger any car coming down pit road) and the Home Depot Racing team was charged with a tire violation. Sentence: Logano had to complete a pass-through penalty by returning to pit road and traveling the entire length at the relatively painful pace of 45 miles per hour. The penalty put Logano a lap down in 23rd position.

Logano sat in the Lucky Dog position for the rest of the race, but there were no more cautions and he finished one lap down.

Logano is 30th in point standings.

Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota (Started: 43, Finished: 7)
After his best qualifying effort yet at LVMS, Hamlin was slotted to start Sunday's race in 17th position. When Hamlin's crew did their final check on #11 car Sunday morning, the engine showed signs of a potential problem. Rather than risk a DNF, the team chose to replace the engine. Because of this change, Hamlin started in the back of the field.

By lap 25, Hamlin was comfortably inside the top-30. He continued to pass cars and by lap 70 he sat just outside of the top-20 in 21st position. Because of caution number four (spins from the #22 Pennzoil  Ultra Dodge of Kurt Busch and the #4 Red Bull Toyota of Kasey Kahne), Hamlin ran 15th for the first time that day. His crew chief, Mike Ford, commented that Hamlin was running "top five" laps and ensured the team that if they could get Hamlin into the top five, he would stay there.

The final caution of the day (brought out by #24 Jeff Gordon) gave the #11 team just what they needed to break into the top-10. Hamlin restarted 10th with four fresh tires and fuel. Hamlin went three-wide for eighth position with the #20 of teammate Joey Logano and the #83 of Brian Vickers. After three laps, Hamlin pulled ahead and took eighth.

Lap 241 found Hamlin taking two tires under the final green flag pit stop. He moved into sixth position and made a run for fifth. Hamlin dropped back to seventh as Martin Truex Jr. (#56 Napa Auto Parts Toyota) passed him on four fresh tires. Hamlin finished the race in seventh, the biggest mover in the race with 36 positions.

Hamlin is 8th in point standings.
The Joe Gibbs Review: Kobalt Tools 400 The Joe Gibbs Review: Kobalt Tools 400 Reviewed by Génette Wood on Tuesday, March 08, 2011 Rating: 5