Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Joe Gibbs Review: Coca-Cola 600


Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images


The end of the Coca-Cola 600 was perhaps most shocking for Joe Gibbs Racing. While Kyle Busch was already out of the running, Denny Hamlin contended for his strongest finish of the season and Joey Logano hung near the back of the lead lap. Within seconds, Hamlin was out of fuel and Logano picked up 18 positions to finish third.

Kyle Busch, #18 M&M's Toyota (Started: 21, Finished: 32)
News broke on Tuesday, May 24, of Busch’s speeding offense outside of Charlotte, N.C. He was test driving a yellow Lexus LFA that Toyota had loaned to the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. Busch was clocked at 128 mph (which begs the question—what was his highest speed?) in a 45 mph zone.

Fans were split on the issue. Should NASCAR penalize the driver for his disregard of the law? They did not, in spite of Busch’s current probation from his earlier on-track altercation with Kevin Harvick. Joe Gibbs, on the other hand, refused to rule out a future punishment for Busch.

NASCAR and JGR aside, one entity did have a fitting punishment in mind for the driver: his #18 Toyota Camry. After jetting to the front of the field and dangling a potential win, the car inexplicably wrecked. Twice.

In the first wreck, Busch’s car spun left and plowed through the grass. His was the first car in two weeks to come away with minimal damage (#09 Thank A Teacher Today/Security Benefit Chevrolet of Landon Cassill and the All-Star Race #99 Aflac Ford of Carl Edwards had both been wrecked by the Charlotte infield). Busch restarted 21st, still on the lead lap.

Just 20 laps later, his car careened right (careening left earlier had not done enough damage in spite of the infield’s previous record of eating stock cars whole). Busch hit the wall and the damage was done. The #18 limped to the garage where crews worked on it for 14 laps. Busch made one final trip around the track before the team determined it was too damaged to finish the race. Busch ended with his second DNF of the season.

Busch dropped to 5th in point standings (-2).

Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx Express Toyota (Started: 4, Finished: 10)
After qualifying well, Hamlin ran in the top-10 for nearly the entire race. The first caution gave Hamlin just what he needed to dominate the field. In spite of losing a spot on pit road and coming out third on the restart, a mere two laps later found him in the lead.

Hamlin fell back to third and at Lap 140 gave the fans a taste of the words he learned from Busch brother, Kurt (and possibly Chad Knaus). Hamlin colorfully reported that the infamous JGR engine problems were back. The #11 continued to run in the top-10 even though Hamlin swore he had no power.

The ninth caution of the night (brought out by #09 Landon Cassill’s lawn-care business) found a frustrated Hamlin on pit road for an extended pit stop. The #11 pit crew (two-time champions of the Pit Crew Challenge) removed and replaced Hamlin’s carburetor in record time (new challenge for next year’s competition?). Hamlin restarted on the lead lap in 27th.

By the time teammate Kyle Busch’s car brought out his second caution, Hamlin was back into the top-10. A green-white-checker finish (courtesy of the #48 Lowes Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports’ engines) found Hamlin restarting third and just a little too close on fuel. As second place Kasey Kahne (#4 Red Bull Toyota) drifted by (out of fuel), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#88 National Guard Chevrolet) slowed into turn 4 (out of fuel), the #11 ran out of fuel and coasted beneath the checkered flag in 10th place.

Hamlin rose to 12th in point standings (+1).

Joey Logano, #20 Home Depot Toyota (Started: 23, Finished: 3)
After Logano’s 21st birthday (May 24th) was upstaged by teammate Kyle Busch’s speeding infraction, the Home Depot driver was looking for revenge (not really).

Clearly, Logano made a wish when he blew out his birthday candles to be more like Kevin Harvick (#29 Budweiser Chevrolet), who also has a bone to pick with Busch. Logano narrowly missed getting collected by Bobby Labonte (#47 Reese Towpower/DKMS Toyota) on Lap 100. He managed to snag two Lucky Dogs and a wave around to remain on the lead lap. After running in the 20s for the greater portion of the race, Logano climbed into the teens and into the top-10 around Lap 300. At 99 laps to go, Logano was in the top-five.

In the spirit of pulling a full blown Harvick (coming out of nowhere to win the race), Logano again dropped from sight. When the #48 brought about the green-white-checker finish, Logano sat comfortably in 21st position. By the time the checkered flag dropped, not only had Harvick pulled a Harvick, Logano had flown 18 positions forward into 3rd.

It seems things are looking up for the youngest Joe Gibbs driver. Maybe now that he’s old enough to celebrate with Victory Lane champagne, he’ll be at the front of the field more often.

Logano rose to 23rd in point standings (+5).
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This column is based purely on the opinion (and sense of humor) of the author. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the other ladies of Skirts and Scuffs. 

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