Joe Gibbs Review: STP 400

Credit: Jame Squire/Getty Images for NASCAR

Two of three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers logged laps led this week at Kansas, but only one finished inside the top-10. The other two drivers settled into top-20 and top-30 finishes after battling race cars that were too tight, then too loose. Fuel mileage came into play as well, forcing every team to strategize in light of absent cautions.

Joey Logano, #20 Home Depot Toyota (Started: 5, Finished: 23)
After last week's third place finish, Logano looked to keep the momentum going at Kansas. He qualified fifth and picked up spots early. He reached a race high of third by Lap 10, but as the track heated up, the #20 tightened up.

Lap 45 found Logano on pit road for his first green flag stop. The Home Depot crew executed a chassis adjustment to help Logano in the corners, but after the green flag stops cycled through, Logano was ninth. He continued to drop steadily until he settled into 15th around the time of the first caution.

Logano stayed around 15th for nearly eighty laps before he began to drop again around Lap 145. He fell into the 20s for the first time this week and hit a race low of 32nd before the final round of green flag stops put him back into the top-10.

Though the #20 team hoped to finish without the final stop, they couldn't deny the probability that Logano would run out of fuel with more than a lap to go. He went in for fuel and tires with 14 laps to go. He returned to the track in the 20s and settled into 23rd, one lap down at the finish.

Logano dropped to 25th in point standings (-2).

Kyle Busch, #18 M&Ms Toyota (Started: 3, Finished: 12)
Whether the "old" Kyle Busch is back or not remains to be seen. What NASCAR fans know right now is Rowdy has lived up to his name in the last month, and Saturday he sent the media into a frenzy for the third time this season. As with the speeding ticket from last week, Busch will not be penalized for his second altercation with Richard Childress Racing (and the man himself!), though he is still on probation.

Sunday, Busch made it clear to fans at home that Childress did not damage his face (as was rumored Saturday after the 65-year-old team owner allegedly put him in a headlock and punched him). He made a show of putting his sunglasses on while on television after fans saw both eyes were clear of any bruising.

On the track, Busch was as aggressive as ever. After starting third, he took the lead on Lap 3 and held it for seven laps until he lost it to the #42 Target Chevrolet of Juan Pablo Montoya.

After the first green flag stops, Busch came out third, but lost it to the #99 Aflac Ford Fusion of Carl Edwards after getting to loose and brushing the wall. In spite of battling a loose car, Busch ran in the top-five.

At 99 laps to go, Busch fell out of the top-5 for only the second time during the race, but he would never regain the position. His late race high was 9th as he attempted to stretch fuel on what had clearly become a fuel mileage race.

With only 22 laps to go, the #18 made a dash for his pit box and final green flag stop. With six laps left, Busch was back up to 11th, but dropped back to 12th for the finish.

Still, the topic of conversation remains his altercation with Richard Childress. One thing is for certain: if Busch wants fans to note his strong finishes and contention for the Chase rather than his off-track dust-ups, he needs to stop getting into them (at least until he's off probation).

Busch remained 5th in point standings (+/- 0).

Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx Freight (Started: 15, Finished: 3)
Last weekend Hamlin ran out of fuel going into turn four at Charlotte, but he took the 10th place finish with a grin. This week he looked to kick fuel mileage butt and he did just that.

Hamlin headed into the race after a relatively strong qualifying effort positioned him in 15th. He hit a race low of 18th early on, but battled back to 14th before the first round of green flag stops (Lap 46).

After the first caution (Lap 67), Hamlin gained two positions on pit road and restarted in 9th. He picked off the top-eight drivers one at a time, eventually passing fellow 2010 championship contender Kevin Harvick (#29 Budweiser Chevrolet) for sixth. By Lap 92, Hamlin was in fifth.

At Lap 117, Hamlin ran to the front for the first time. The day's third caution and subsequent restart found Tony Stewart (#14 The Glades/Office Depot Chevrolet) bearing down on Hamlin. However, a firm push from teammate Kyle Busch helped Hamlin get a run off of turn one and block Stewart from taking the lead.

Stewart wasn't finished with his campaign for the lead and at Lap 136 began a fierce battle with Hamlin. Just five laps later, Hamlin conceded the lead to his former Joe Gibbs teammate.

The next caution again found Hamlin in the lead after a successful pit stop by the #11 crew. Unfriendly bumps from Kurt Busch (#22 AAA Dodge) and Stewart seemed to knock trouble into Hamlin's car and he began to report issues with his splitter.

Hamlin ran behind Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (#88 Amp Chevrolet) for the second week in a row, but this time neither sputtered out of gas on the final lap. Unfortunately, the leader had enough fuel to make it to the checkered as well and Hamlin came home third.

Hamlin rose to 11th in point standings (+1).
Joe Gibbs Review: STP 400 Joe Gibbs Review: STP 400 Reviewed by Génette Wood on Monday, June 06, 2011 Rating: 5