Joe Gibbs Review: Showtime Southern 500

Bryan Cook/Joe Gibbs Racing
The Joe Gibbs Racing teams lit up the weekend with wrecks and fireworks all before the drop of the checkered flag at Darlington. From Denny Hamlin's quiet top-10 finish to Kyle Busch's controversial wreck at three laps to go, the boys chipped away at their mid-season reputations, for the good and for the bad.

Joey Logano, #20 Home Depot Toyota (Started: 17, Finish: 35)

In his three starts at Darlington, Logano has finished in the top 10 once. He hoped to change that this weekend, but a wreck on Lap 238 sent him to the garage. After running in 13th for nearly the entire first half of the race, the #48 Lowes Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson made contact with the Home Depot machine and sent Logano spinning across the track.

The #20 was able to come back onto the track, 50 laps down. Logano ran in 35th for the rest of the race and was able to cross the finish line with a heavily damaged car.

Logano dropped to 24th in points standings (-4).

Denny Hamlin, #11 Sports Clips Toyota (Started: 3, Finish: 6)

After taming Darlington last season, Hamlin qualified well and swore he had the best car on the track. However, Hamlin got his Darlington stripe early when he slid into the wall and scraped up the right side of his car (thus leaving a long stripe where the paint rubbed off). The damage extended to the splitter and Hamlin began to find trouble in the turns. He was constantly too tight going into turns 3 and 4. The Sports Clip Toyota also could not get runs off of turn 2.

Adjustments were made to heal the damage in several pit stops, but Hamlin continued to complain of difficulties with the handling in the corners. However, his track position only ever slipped as low as 11th and he made it back into the top three near the end of the race.

The cautions in the final two laps provided trouble on the retarts for Hamlin and he slipped to sixth, where he finished as the only Joe Gibbs car inside the top-10. This was Hamlin's third top-10 finish of the season, proving he still plans to fight for a shot at this season's championship.

Hamlin rose to 16th in points standings (+1).

Kyle Busch, #18 Wrigley's Doublemint Toyota (Started: 14, Finished: 11)

While Busch certainly did not have the strongest finish of the Joe Gibbs drivers this weekend, he did have the most memorable. His new reputation as one of NASCAR's nice guys came into question when a seemingly intentional post-race wreck involving Kevin Harvick's car overshadowed everything else in the evening.

The first 100 laps of the race plagued Busch with problems getting into his pit box as his crew wasn't counting him in. Still, the #18 ran well early in the race, up to the front and led 20+ laps before a tire went down and forced him to make an unsheduled green flag pit stop. The incident put Busch a lap down. He only received the Lucky Dog when teammate Logano brought out the seventh caution of the night on Lap 238.
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR

A caution with 10 laps to go bunched up the field on the track "too tough to tame" and the restart at five laps to go proved Darlington true to its nickname. Busch slipped back on the restart and attempted to regain his position by going three wide with Kevin Harvick (#29 Budweiser Chevrolet) and Clint Bowyer (#33 BBT Chevrolet). Busch cut under the #29 and passed him, but Harvick's car was just a millisecond faster and hit the back of the #18 when Busch didn't check up far enough. Busch got loose, the three cars bumped, and Bowyer careened off the track and into the inside wall as collateral damage. The real feud remained between the #18 and #29. Whether Busch accidentally slid down the track because his car was loose or whether he rammed into the right rear of Harvick on purpose is still up for debate. No matter the truth, Harvick spun and joined Bowyer down at the inside wall.

The real fireworks came after first time winner Regan Smith (#78 Furniture Row Chevrolet) took the checkered flag. Harvick chased Busch just outside of pit road. Busch backed away to avoid confrontation (and perhaps having his car slammed into) and followed Harvick onto pit road. Harvick stopped his car and jumped out to attack Busch. The Wrigley's Doublemint machine apparently lost reverse gear in the earlier confrontation (this was verified by NASCAR) and Busch re-wrecked the #29 by pushing it out of the way and into the wall of a nearby pit box in order to avoid getting punched by Harvick.

Both drivers were called to the NASCAR hauler while their pit crews decided to have it out. NASCAR officials held off Harvick's crew while a #18 crew member held off his own men. At the end of the evening, no official word was given as to what penalties the drivers may face or how far NASCAR will allow "Have at it, boys," to go next week at Dover.

Busch is still 3rd in points standings (-0).

As of this publication, the points standings are unofficial pending possible penalties to the #18 and #29 teams.
Joe Gibbs Review: Showtime Southern 500 Joe Gibbs Review: Showtime Southern 500 Reviewed by Génette Wood on Monday, May 09, 2011 Rating: 5