Sunday, August 12, 2012

Gibbs Garage: A gut-wrenching day for Gibbs teammates at Watkins Glen

Kyle Busch spins on the final lap
Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images
If folks in the Gibbs’ team garages are glum after today’s race, who can blame them? Four Cup cars with varying degrees of damage, one blown engine and a win that got away.

The weekend at Watkins Glen was a bust for Denny Hamlin from the get-go, with a wreck during qualifying putting him in his backup car. On top of that, Hamlin expressed disappointed in his qualifying effort on Saturday and rolled off the grid in 23rd place. He had a slow start, stuck in his starting position for the first 15 laps or so, then began picking off spots.

The FedEx Toyota in the garage
Photo by Boris at http://facebook.com/joegibbsracing
During the first caution, the No. 11 crew made adjustments to the rear, then Hamlin restarted 18th and continued to move toward the front. By Lap 50 he broke into the top 10, but it was a short-lived triumph. The FedEx Toyota brought out the second caution when the engine expired and the car rolled to a stop against the wall. A fire under the car came through the firewall by Hamlin’s feet, but he did not complain of any injuries.

After the incident, Hamlin commented on how many wrecks and fires the team has had lately, adding, “It’s just an overall bad weekend for us.”

He summed up his disappointment in one succinct tweet after the race: “Another tough day.. She blew up.” Hamlin finished 34th.

Kyle Busch had a wicked fast M&Ms Toyota for the Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen. After clocking in the fastest time in final practice and starting the race with a burst of speed, it looked like the No. 18 might bring home a “W” and possibly clinch a wild card spot. But after taking the white flag, Busch was undone by a slippery track, lapped traffic and a tap from a competitor.

Kyle Busch leads early at Watkins Glen.
Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Busch started on the outside pole, but took the lead on the first lap and stayed out front for 26 laps. After pitting under the initial caution, he came off pit road second, but restarted in seventh spot behind some cars on a different pit strategy. Busch gained track position, getting up to fourth by Lap 44. When the top three cars pitted, Busch inherited the lead for a couple more laps.

The No. 18 car ran in the top 10 through the next two cautions. With 21 to go, Busch was running fourth when Marcos Ambrose flew by him and Clint Bowyer to take over third place.

With 16 to go, Busch lined up third for the restart. Then in a gutsy move, he went three-wide out onto the candy cane stripes, passing both Ambrose (p2) and Keselowski (p1) to take the lead. With Ambrose and Keselowski battling behind him, Busch stretched his lead to two seconds. In the closing laps, Keselowski passed Ambrose to take second place while Busch lost time racing near a lapped car. On the final lap, the No. 18 slipped in oil, which allowed Keselowski to catch up and bump him, sending Busch spinning into the guard rail. He wheeled the M&Ms car back onto the track and managed a seventh place finish. Busch led three times for 43 laps.

Keselowski tweeted an apology after the race: “Sorry to @KyleBusch and his fans for the contact. We were just all pushing hard for the win and he caught the worst of it. #NotIntentional

Marcos Ambrose passed Keselowski and took the checkered flag, so now there are five drivers in the Wild Card race with one win each: Newman, Busch, Gordon, Ambrose and Logano.

The Home Depot Toyota being repaired.
Photo by Boris at http://facebook.com/joegibbsracing
Coming off an engine failure in the Nationwide event on Saturday, Joey Logano started 14th in the Sprint Cup race. It was apparent something was wrong with the car right away, as he lost track position, falling to 20th by Lap 8. In attempts to alleviate the handling problem Logano was experiencing, the Home Depot crew replaced a right rear shock on their first pit stop, but that didn’t fix it.

Logano took the No. 20 car to the garage where the team fixed a broken mount in the rear end. Logano resumed the race in 35th place, 19 laps down. He ran the rest of the race without incident and finished 32nd.

Logano tweeted: “Man... broke the rear shock mount. We will get them next week at MIS, we had a good test there a couple weeks ago.”

Points standings after Watkins Glen:
Denny Hamlin – 10th (-2)
Kyle Busch – 14th (+1)
Joey Logano – 18th (-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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