Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gibbs Garage: Brickyard bites Logano while teammates Busch and Hamlin finish up front


Denny Hamlin leads the field to the green flag at Indy
Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Although they didn't get to kiss the bricks after Sunday's Cup race, two-thirds of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable ended the Brickyard with satisfying finishes and smiling faces.

Polesitter Denny Hamlin led the first 26 laps of the race, then lost the lead to Jimmie Johnson after the first green flag pit stops. He ran second until the second caution when lack of grip on the restart shuffled him back into the teens.

When asked about that restart after the race, Hamlin said, “... basically I think what happened is it dug the nose into the ground and took the front tires off the ground. I couldn’t steer it into the corner and I did it again on the last restart.”

The restart after the third caution with 60 to go was better though, when Hamlin began in ninth and quickly moved up to fourth. Except for dropping to fifth for a few laps when passed by Biffle, Hamlin held the fourth spot for about the next 20 laps.

The No. 11 FedEx Toyota slipped to sixth after restarting on the outside line with 19 to go. Overall, a great weekend for Hamlin, who finished 4th in the inaugural NNS race on Saturday and 6th in the Brickyard 400.

Hamlin’s post-race thoughts: “We had about a fourth, fifth, sixth-place car and that’s kind of where we ended up. Once I got back there, I was able to maintain and make up a little ground, but I wasn’t going to go any further forward than where I was.”

The No. 18 car on pit road
Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Kyle Busch rolled off seventh and picked up spots quickly, making it to third place by lap six. He led two laps as green flag stops began, then resumed running in third after they cycled through. On the first caution, Busch had troubles on pit road when his car stalled as he exited, dropping him back to 13th. But the No. 18 M&M’s Camry recovered quickly, getting back into the top ten. Busch continued his forward momentum and broke into the top five around Lap 60.

With about 20 to go, Busch passed Biffle to take second. Busch’s car was fast and with about ten to go ran a lap 0.1 second faster than the leader, Jimmie Johnson. But as the final laps wound down, the No. 48 steadily pulled ahead to a 6-second lead and won the race. Busch’s runner-up finish was his first top-five finish in eight races, since his string of four top fives from Richmond (where he won) to Charlotte.

A smiling Busch reflected on the race: “We’ve had a lot of frustrating days here - we’ve had the last eight frustrating weeks. It’s been really hard on us and hard on our team. This is a great run for us and I really appreciate all these guys - Dave Rogers (crew chief) and all these guys on this M&M’s Camry - to give me a good piece to qualify well and run up front like that and to just come out of here with a solid day. It feels like a win for us.” 

Logano with a team member before the race
Photo by Boris at http://facebook.com/joegibbsracing
Joey Logano started the event on the second row, then slipped back and ran seventh. The No. 20 car moved up to sixth position on Lap 13 and maintained that spot through the first three pit stops, one during green conditions and two during cautions.

Logano was strong and steady for the first 100 laps of the race, with the adjustments improving the car to his liking by around Lap 85. But a slow pit stop under the third caution caused him to lose track position and become mired back in 21st spot for the restart. Although the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota got back into the teens after the next pit stop, he again slipped back to 21st.

“My pit crew is normally spot on and they’ve been extremely fast all year long. But we had a slow stop and lost a lot of spots on pit road,” Logano said after the race. “That put us back in the big pack of cars and it completely changed the handle of the car. It went from being loose to being so tight you couldn’t even drive it.”

His final undoing came with 28 to go when Logano ricocheted around the track like the ball in a pinball machine. After getting loose in turn one, Logano bounced off the No. 21 car of Trevor Bayne, slid down the track into Bobby Labonte, then spun up the track into Matt Kenseth and the outside wall. He took the No. 20 car to the garage for repairs, and finished 33rd, 16 laps down.

Logano said, “That was just unfortunate and not the kind of day we were looking for. We had a decent Dollar General Toyota. We weren’t a race-winning car, but I think if we had kept getting it better and better, we could have finished in the top-five for sure.”

Points standings after Indy:
Denny Hamlin – 5th
Kyle Busch – 11th (+2)
Joey Logano – 17th (-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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