Monday, October 22, 2012

Gibbs Garage: Hamlin frustrated by caution-filled Kansas race but holds onto third spot in standings


Denny Hamlin's crew services the No. 11 car at Kansas.
Credit: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images  
It was a rough week for Denny Hamlin. After hitting the wall at around 200 miles per hour in practice, he lost his primary car. Hamlin suffered some dizziness after the hard hit and was checked out by the medical staff, but thankfully he was okay and cleared to drive.

Crew chief Darian Grubb said the No. 11 FedEx Freight backup car wasn’t as fast, but he thought it might be more consistent on the long runs. Unfortunately we’ll never know, because long green runs never materialized in the Hollywood Casino 400. The caution-filled race had only five green runs of 26 laps or more with an average green flag stint of a mere 13.4 laps.

Once the race was underway, Hamlin and his team bounced around, losing and gaining track position depending on tire and fuel strategy. After qualifying the backup car in ninth, he drove into the top five by Lap 23. But after a four-tire stop when the rest of the leaders took only two, he restarted around 19th. Taking only two tires during the third caution rebounded him back into the top ten.

Despite the numerous cautions, Hamlin was in fuel-saving mode much of the race. He was bitten by cautions twice when the yellow came out right after or during his green flag pit stops. Taking the wave around got him back on the lead lap, but was unable to make up enough track position to gain points on Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, who finished eighth and ninth, respectively.

“Well, this is a race where when you got the other guys you’re racing finishing eighth and ninth -- you’ve got to beat them, especially wrecked race cars shouldn’t be there, so we just shot ourselves in the foot a lot today.”

Hamlin described his overall frustration about the race. “Every run I either had to save fuel or get caught by a caution and then go a lap down, get a wave around and it’s just -- got caught by two cautions today -- we had good track position. I drove to the top-five on the first run and then we took four (tires) and the entire field took two (tires) and put us in the back of the pack...”

The No. 18 crew checks the damage.
Credit: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Although Kyle Busch has racked up three top-five finishes in the last six races, he ended up with some crushed M&M decals and a DNF at Kansas.

After starting fifth, he ran in the top five, getting as high as second, until bringing out the caution on Lap 41. The M&Ms Halloween Toyota got loose off Turn four and spun across the track and through the grass, but Busch managed to keep it off the wall. He restarted 33rd, still on the lead lap, and climbed back into the top ten after a fuel-only pit stop under the next caution.

Busch fought loose handling conditions throughout the race, and ran anywhere from the top 20 to the top 10 as he was shuffled around by pit stops. On Lap 183, Ryan Newman got into the back of the No. 18 car, sending Busch into the wall, his rear bumper taking the brunt of a long slide before slipping down the track and heading to the garage.

Commenting on his wreck with Ryan Newman, Busch said: “Everything is just on edge. You’re really slipping and sliding and fighting for as much grip as you can find out there, so I come down the back straightaway. I come low a little bit to protect the bottom and try to make sure I could keep my line down there -- I’ve been losing spots on the top all day. Then (Ryan) Newman just ran up on the back of me and got me loose -- I’ve been loose all day -- and then he ran into the back of me and spun me out, so just impatience. There’s still 80-something laps to go. I don’t know what that was for or why or whatever, but I’m glad he’s wrecked along with me and he’ll get another one here before the year is out.”

Busch's official finish was 31st.

Joey Logano joined his JGR teammates starting in the top 10, rolling off eighth. He had a great start, keeping the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the top 10 for the first 60 laps. After a four-tire pit stop under the third caution, Logano restarted 17th and ran in the high teens most of the event.

When Trevor Bayne and Marcos Ambrose crashed to bring out the tenth caution, Logano got hit in the rear, but the car was undamaged. He fought handling conditions for most of the race and came home with a 19th place finish, dropping one place in the standings to 18th.

“You don’t get any more frustrating days than that right there," Logano said. "The car was tight at the beginning of the race but it seemed like something we could live with and work through. Jason seemed to make all the right calls that would loosen the car up and get rid of the tight condition but everything we did just made the car worse. The more I was around guys the tighter the car would be. We started being just tight in the center and off and by the end we were right from the entry all the way through the exit. It was a frustrating day for sure. You don’t want to be as good as we were in testing and practice and come out of here with a 19th-place finish, especially with all of the crashes and cautions that we were able to avoid today. We will check it out and see what happen and learn from this for the next race.”


Points standings after Kansas:
Denny Hamlin – 3rd (20 points behind Chase leader)
Kyle Busch – 13th
Joey Logano – 18th (-1)
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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 bbreinke@skirtsandScuffs.com



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