Last season, Joe Gibbs Racing seemed to have the Midas touch on the 1.5-mile ovals.
Matt Kenseth may have lost the battle for the 2013 Sprint Cup championship, but his success on 1.5-milers – four of his seven wins in ’13 came on those tracks – kept his bid for a title going all the way to Homestead.
Additionally, Kyle Busch earned two of his four wins on 1.5-milers and Denny Hamlin won the season finale on Homestead’s own 1.5-miler, a happy ending to a largely disastrous season for him.
But what was JGR’s strong suit last year has not been the case for them in 2014.
In the most recent 1.5-mile race prior to last night’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas, JGR put up a decent showing of third (Busch), seventh (Kenseth), and 13th (Hamlin) in Texas.
But the trio took a step back in Kansas, as Kenseth led their group with a 10th place finish. Busch and Hamlin finished 15th and 18th, respectively.
Altogether, it was a quiet night.
“If I knew exactly [what the problem was], I’d just fix it,” said Kenseth, who felt he was “lucky” to eke out a Top-10 finish.
As for Busch’s crew chief, Dave Rogers, he felt the team needed to remember the basics of what makes a car quick in the first place.
“Everyone is this sport knows what they are: You’ve got to handle well, have good power down the straightaways and you have to have good aerodynamics,” Rogers said.
“You just have to have a good race car. You are never off in one area. You’re never going to change one thing and fix it. I just think we’re off a little bit in all the fundamental areas and we just have to go back and work on it.”
Hamlin, who had been hoping to keep his momentum going after winning last weekend at Talladega, echoed Rogers’ comments by saying that “every piece and part on the car has got to get better.”
“We were a ‘knife to a gunfight’ deal,” he added. “We just had nothing for the top-10 guys. Just really struggled with speed — we were a half-second off, at least in practice and that much in qualifying and that much in the race.
“A half-second in our sport is miles…Got to get better, or else we’ll be in trouble. We’ll just keep working through these summer months.”