Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gibbs Garage: Fuel mileage goes Hamlin’s way at Charlotte as JGR scores three top 10s

Denny Hamlin before the Bank of America 500
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs  
After starting ninth in the Bank of America 500, Denny Hamlin gained three spots in his first lap. The FedEx Ground Toyota was strong all night and Hamlin spent much of the night running in the top five.

During the third caution, the No. 11 crew got Hamlin out quickest of all the cars that took four tires. He restarted 10th on Lap 40 and quickly moved into the top three, staying there for almost 100 laps. He took the lead late, after a round of green flag pit stops, and stayed up front for 33 laps, then nabbed another three later for a total of 36.

After the fuel woes of previous weeks, Grubb played it conservative on fuel strategy, calling Hamlin back in shortly after a green flag pit stop to top off the tank. Points leader Brad Keselowski ran out of gas with 58 to go and had to coast in for gas, with Jimmie Johnson running short and pitting as well.

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
“It was good to have a fuel-mileage race somewhat go our way, and Darian made the gutsy call to bring us in and lose all of our track position in the middle of the race, which I was kind of frustrated with,” Hamlin said after the race. “But obviously he knew what he was doing and we saved the fuel that we needed...”

With 40 to go, Grubb told Hamlin to save about one more lap-worth of fuel. Hamlin managed to move from seventh to second in the next 20 laps. He steadily gained on leader Clint Bowyer, closing the gap while maneuvering through lapped cars, but didn’t have quite enough to pass the No. 15 by race end. Hamlin’s second place showing holds his third spot in the Chase and gains him eight points on leader Brad Keselowski.

When asked to assess how the Chase is going for him, Hamlin said, “I think we're just rewinding where we were in the points two races ago. I think I was 16 back and (Johnson) was like five or eight or something like that, and it's right back where it was two races ago. We made up Talladega and we made up one other racetrack. So it's good, you want to close the gap, especially for myself, knowing that we're hitting our best racetracks later in this Chase and not at the beginning.”

Kyle Busch at CMS
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
 Kyle Busch and Joey Logano brought home nice finishes for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch rolled off eighth and had a strong racecar all evening. Although he didn’t lead a lap, Busch ran in the top five for more than two-thirds of the event. Though he fought tight handling conditions on the M&Ms Toyota throughout much of the race, the No. 18 team made numerous adjustments to keep their driver competitive.

With 27 to go, Busch pitted from second spot to get two tires and fuel, returned to the race track in eighth spot, then made his way back up to a fifth place finish.

“Darn fuel mileage played against us again, but it’s good for the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and those guys,” Busch said. “They come home second. The M&M’s Camry was fast, and the guys worked hard all weekend. I really can’t say enough about them, but it just wasn’t there for us at the end with the strategy and everything. We came home OK.”

Logano had a successful Friday night in Charlotte, winning the Nationwide race for his eighth victory this season. He qualified 12th for the Cup race and ran as high as eighth early in the event. Loose handling conditions plagued Logano for much of the race, with adjustments seeming futile. Then on the fourth pit stop, the team added a rubber to the left rear and made significant track bar adjustments, which helped a lot, especially on the later part of long runs.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

“I felt like early in the runs tonight, especially on restarts, we would just lose some spots and then 20 or 30 laps into it, we would start gaining ground on everyone,” Logano said. “There for a while, I knew we were the fastest car on the track.”

Fuel mileage figured into Logano’s late-race strategy, as he pitted for a splash-and-go with fewer than 15 left laps in the race.

“We held on as long as we could but we knew we couldn't make it so it was worth just getting a splash of gas and trying to hold on there at the end. I’ll take a top-10 finish for sure and head to Kansas where I think we will be strong.”

Overall, Logano kept the Home Depot Toyota in the top 10 for the last 50 laps and brought it home in ninth, his 12th top-10 finish of the 2012 season.

Points standings after Charlotte:
Denny Hamlin – 3rd (15 points behind Chase leader)
Kyle Busch – 13th
Joey Logano – 17th (+1)


Beth Bence Reinke is a columnist, support editor & media rep for Skirts and Scuffs. She writes "Gibbs Garage," Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup team recaps, for the 2012 season. Her column, “Faith on the Frontstretch,” explores the role of faith in motorsports. Beth is also the author of Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a devotional book geared toward female NASCAR fans. Follow her on Twitter at @bbreinke or reach her at


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