Sunday, October 7, 2012

Gibbs Garage: JGR drivers survive Talladega smash-up and Kyle Busch finishes third

Kyle Busch on track at Talladega
Credit: Tod Warshaw/Getty Images  
After a horrendous crash on the last lap at Talladega, the post-race Sprint Cup garage must have resembled a junkyard as teams dealt with torn-up sheet metal and twisted frames. Somehow, the Joe Gibbs Racing cars escaped serious damage.

As the pace laps began, crew chief Darian Grubb gave last-minute instructions to his No. 11 team, including a directive to finish the race in “one piece.” By employing a “hang out in the back” strategy for most of the event, Denny Hamlin was one of a minority of drivers to bring his car home with barely a scratch.

Hamlin lined up 23rd, then dropped to the rear as soon as the green flag flew. As he ran in the high 30s early on, Hamlin lost ground, but Logano worked with him for a while to get them both up to speed. During the second caution, Hamlin’s pit crew made repairs to stabilize his rearview mirror, which was vibrating so much he couldn’t see with it.

As the laps passed, Hamlin continued to run the FedEx Freight Toyota toward the rear, waiting to make his move. With 25 to go, the strategy was “save fuel and hope for a caution,” which came when Jamie McMurray spun with only about 10 to go. On the G-W-C restart, Hamlin was far enough back to avoid the horrific crash that took out almost the entire front end of the field. He hit the brakes and spun, then got back on the gas and crossed the finish line in 14th place.

Hamlin tweeted after the race: “Sorry folks. Not the way I wanna race but I needed to just survive today. I'll make it up to you at Charlotte.”

Kyle Busch started 13th and led twice for a total of six laps early in the race. He ran up front until speeding while entering pit road during green flag stops. After serving a pass-through penalty, Busch was mired back in 35th, one lap down. He received the free pass under the third caution and drove the M&Ms Toyota toward the front of the pack again.

“I made a mistake there early and got to pit road way too hot and was speeding there, so we got a lap down. But fought hard all day, made that back up, got back on the lead lap...” Busch said.

Near the end of the race, Busch was short on fuel and did a quick splash-and-go under green. For the G-W-C ending, he was on the bottom pushing Jeff Gordon when the huge wreck happened. Busch missed the carnage by going down to the apron, and finished third, for his third top-5 finish in 16 career Sprint Cup starts at Talladega.

“Our day was pretty good...we had a really, really fast race car and drove up toward the front a few times. All in all, our guys had some good pit stops, and we gained some spots. We had some fuel-only stuff going on. So typical Talladega day. Just glad and thankful that I was able to get out through the aero with no damage and make it through unscathed.”

Joey Logano started 14th in the Home Depot Toyota, but was involved in an early incident that put him a lap down and out of contention.

After contact with Carl Edwards on Lap 18, Cole Whitt ricocheted off the outside wall and came down into Logano’s right side. The No. 20 team made repairs on pit road, but then Logano blew a right front tire and had to pit again for tires. He returned to the track in 38th spot, one lap down and ran the remainder of the event in the back. He finished 32nd.

Points standings after Talladega:
Denny Hamlin – 3rd (23 points behind Chase leader)
Kyle Busch – 13th
Joey Logano – 18th
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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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