Monday, May 28, 2012

Gibbs Garage: Hamlin and Busch bring home second and third in the Coca-Cola 600

Hamlin finishes second in NASCAR’s longest race
Credit: Christ Graythen/Getty Images
If NASCAR awarded ribbons instead of trophies at Charlotte, the JGR drivers would have a red one and a white one, two-thirds of our nation’s colors. The elusive blue ribbon went to sentimental favorite Kasey Kahne. Even Kahne’s competitors were pleased to see him get his first win for Hendrick Motorsports. Kyle Busch said in a post-race interview, “It's cool that Kasey was able to do a nice job for him (Rick Hendrick.) I wish Denny or I could have gotten the win. If there's anybody else to beat us, Kasey deserves it.”

After starting 8th, Denny Hamlin drove his socks off to bring home a runner-up finish for the second night in a row at Charlotte. Except for one drop to 16th, Hamlin stayed in the top ten all night and led twice for 13 laps.

During the fifth caution, Hamlin stayed out while the most of the leaders hit pit road. On the restart with about 75 to go, the top five were Hamlin, Earnhardt Jr. (who also stayed out), Biffle, Kyle Busch and Johnson. Hamlin held off the No. 88, but Kahne passed the No. 11 for the lead. After cycling through green flag stops, Hamlin gave it all he and his car had, but the No. 5 lengthened his lead bit by bit as the laps wound down. Hamlin described his run on Kahne: “Just used all my tires up trying to get to him -- I was driving with my eyes out and my hair on fire for 20 laps on that restart trying to catch him. He just had a superior car tonight.”

"Proud day for our FedEx team," Hamlin said. "Everything was executed great today, the pit calls, getting on and off pit road, the pit crew themselves. We had a very, very solid day."

Kyle Busch started midpack, hoping for his first win at Charlotte. He was happy with his M&Ms Red, White and Blue Toyota early on and moved up to 10th spot in the first 40 laps. The No. 18 pit crew executed fast green flag pit stops, gaining 6 spots on the first one and 3 spots on the second. track position from 12th to 6th and 6th to 3rd. “First three runs of the race, we kept picking it off on the racetrack and pit road,” Busch said. “We got all the way up to fourth with no help after starting 21st. Pretty good. Pretty good car and pit stops during the day. That was really a good effort for us.”

Other than a short drop to 6th late in the race, Busch ran strong in the top five the rest of the event, leading 55 laps. After getting the car a little too tight on one pit stop, it fell back from the leaders a little, but improved after the final stop.

“That last pit stop, the guys were on it. They put out a really good stop, got us all the way up to fourth, then I passed Biffle for third,” Busch said. “Overall, strong night, continues our running of good, strong finishes.”

Joey Logano rolled off 19th for the Coca-Cola 600, but fought a tight racecar from the get-go, dropping to 26th in the first 35 laps. The No. 20 crew made adjustments in attempts to keep up with track conditions, but Logano went a lap down and was never able to get it back.

“Early in the race, we just couldn’t get the handling right,” Logano said. “The car was too tight both center and exit and when that happens, you just lose a lot of time to all of the cars that can get the throttle down faster.”

Around the halfway mark, the car showed improvements and was better on long runs, but it wasn’t enough. After staying out in hopes of a late caution, Logano had to pit for tires and fuel, and finished 23rd.

Logano reflected on the night: “Once again, I felt like we had the car better and we got a better handle on it after the sun went down, but with these long green flag runs and going a couple of laps down early, you just don’t have the chance to get back on the lead lap. It was really a frustrating night because I love Charlotte and I’ve always run well here in the past.”

Points standings for the JGR drivers after Charlotte:
Denny Hamlin – 3rd (+1)
Kyle Busch – 8th (+1)
Joey Logano – 16th (-1)
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Beth Bence Reinke writes "Gibbs Garage," Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup team recaps, for the 2012 season. Her Skirts and Scuffs column, “Faith on the Frontstretch,” explores the role of faith in motorsports. Beth is the author of Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a devotional book geared toward female NASCAR fans. Follow Beth on Twitter at @bbreinke or reach her at bbreinke@skirtsandScuffs.com

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