Monday, October 29, 2012

Gibbs Garage: Kyle Busch finishes second as Hamlin’s Chase hopes fizzle in emotional race

Denny Hamlin drives through the garage before the race.
Credit: Katy Lindamood for Skirts and Scuffs  
The weekend at Martinsville had to be an emotional rollercoaster for Denny Hamlin. On Saturday night, he had a double celebration as he won the NCWTS race in the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports on his girlfriend Jordan’s birthday. But Sunday’s Cup race was more like a Halloween nightmare as a series of problems left him with a dismal 33rd place finish.

The No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota started fifth and was fast from the get-go. But almost 50 laps in, during the first caution, Hamlin was nabbed for speeding entering pit road, and restarted 32nd. He wheeled past car after car and re-entered the top 10 on lap 112.

At that point, Hamlin’s team shared his optimistic comment on twitter, “What’s a race without a little adversity?”

Although he continued to run up front and even led for six laps, there was more misfortune to come. When Hamlin pitted for four tires, fuel and an adjustment under the fifth caution, he exited in first place, but was again penalized for speeding entering pit road. He restarted 28th and did a repeat performance of working himself up into the top 10 over the next 25 laps or so.

The FedEx crew fixes electrical problems to get Hamlin back on track.
Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images  
When asked about the pit road issues, Hamlin said, “I was doing what the crew chief said. I don't know if that's the right thing as far as NASCAR is concerned. They assured me there was no way the speed on entry with the timing lines, there's a little bit of underestimation on how quick these cars can launch when you do take off. I think there was something more to that than what we thought.”

By the three-quarter mark, Hamlin drove into the top three and inherited the lead on Lap 353 as green flag pit stops cycled through. Shortly after his green flag stop, gauges in the FedEx Express Camry went haywire, and the car shut off. Switching ignition boxes helped temporarily, but an electrical malfunction left Hamlin sitting in a dead car on the frontstretch. After quick diagnosis and repair in the garage, Hamlin was back on track in 33rd spot, 34 laps down, and that’s where he crossed the finish line.

“It ended in disappointment,” Hamlin said. “We overcame the pit road penalties, things like that. Just had a great car. When these things happen, you just got to suck it up and move on. There's nothing I can do about it. We still drove our tails right back up to the front twice, passed the 48 car about three times, four times.”

All in all, Hamlin’s one-liner from the commercial played during the race sums up his day: “No bueno, Carlos.”

The M&Ms Halloween Toyota being prepped for the race.
Credit: Katy Lindamood for Skirts and Scuffs 
Kyle Busch drove an orange M&Ms car, but by race end he was feeling blue. Busch was visibly distraught as he spoke to reporters after the race, but not being able to pass winner Jimmie Johnson during the last few laps was only part of his heartache.

Busch described the loss of 21-year-old Raine this week. “We worked as hard as we could and we had an angel riding with us today and weren't able to capitalize for Raine (Angelley) and his family, the loss they had earlier this week. Raine was a kid Samantha and I took under our wings about a year ago, kidney issues, liver issues, passed away this week. It's heavy hearts for all of us. Wish we could have won him one.”

Busch rolled off third and kept the M&Ms Halloween Camry in the top five or six until after the third caution. Shortly after the restart Busch spun due to his right rear tire going down, and ended up in 30th after pitting for fresh tires. He worked his way back into the top 10 by the halfway mark and the top five by about Lap 340, and stayed at the front for the rest of the race, which was his 290th career Cup start.

On the restart with five to go, Busch was second behind leader Jimmie Johnson and crossed the finish line in that spot for his best career finish at Martinsville.

“Jimmie did a good job,” Busch said about the last few laps, then described his own day. “So close, yet so far away it seems like here at Martinsville, time and time again. Struggled early, got behind. Spun out there, was able to work on it, get ourselves a pretty decent car. Probably a third- or fourth-place car. Can't say enough about the effort, the guys did a good job.”

Logano's No. 20 Home Depot/Red Beacon car.
Credit: Katy Lindamood for Skirts and Scuffs 
Joey Logano qualified 14th for the TUMS Fast Relief 500. After an initial jump into the top 10, he spent the first quarter of the event in the top 15, fighting handling issues. Then during the third caution, the No. 20 car was too fast exiting pit road and had to restart 31st. A determined Logano wheeled it back into the top 15 for the middle leg of the race.
Around the halfway mark, the No. 20 crew had trouble when an air gun broke during a two-tire pit stop. Logano was called back in to check the lugnuts and the crew changed the other two tires at the same time. Once again, the Home Depot/Red Beacon Toyota dropped to the back of the field. Logano lost a lap, but was able to get it back later by taking the wavearound.
Positioned in the outside line on a couple of late-race restarts, Logano said it didn’t seem like the cars on the outside got moving as fast as the inside line.
“I feel like we could have had a much better finish had we just been in the right lane there at the end of the race,” Logano said. “Jason (Ratcliff) made a good two-tire call late to get us track position. We started eighth on that last restart and like what normally happens here at Martinsville, the outside lane just didn’t go. I was working hard to try and get down into the inside but there was just a huge line of cars. We restarted eighth and ended up 14th or 15th before we found a hole.”
Logano’s thoughts on his 16th-place finish: “There at the end of the day, I feel like we had the car the best it had been all day long. We made huge improvements in our car over how we were in practice. We just didn’t get the finish to go along with that.”
Points standings after Martinsville:
Denny Hamlin – 5th (49 points behind Chase leader)
Kyle Busch – 13th
Joey Logano – 17th (+1)
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Beth Bence Reinke is a columnist, support editor and 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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