Joe Gibbs Racing has great overall Brickyard run, but Denny Hamlin’s car could have issues

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INDIANAPOLIS – It wasn’t quite the 1-2-3 finish they might have hoped for, but it was almost just as good for Joe Gibbs Racing’s three drivers in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch finished second to winner Jeff Gordon, followed by Denny Hamlin in third and Matt Kenseth was fourth.

It was the best overall JGR finish in nearly four years, when Hamlin won in Richmond in September 2010, followed by Busch (second) and Joey Logano (fourth).

“It was a great day for Joe Gibbs Racing here finishing two, three, four,” Busch said. “I’m real proud of that.

“I can’t say enough about everybody at Joe Gibbs with all the hard work and everything they’ve done this year. They’re helping give our program a boost and moving forward a little bit. … I know that we have more work to do, but there’s still an opportunity to gain speed and we obviously got beat by speed today.”

Added Kenseth, “It was a good day for JGR. All our Toyotas were pretty quick today. We were all top-10 cars, kept guys out and got good finishes. I wish it was a one-two-three (but) another good day for us.”

A good day is what JGR needed, but more so, what Toyota the manufacturer as a whole desperately needed.

Gordon’s win Sunday makes it 10 for Chevrolet in 2014, and broke Ford’s four-race winning streak. Overall, Ford has eight wins in total this season, while Toyota has a paltry two.

Busch and Hamlin have Toyota’s only wins in 2014. Kenseth, who led the Sprint Cup Series in 2013 with a career-high seven triumphs, is still in pursuit of his first of this season.

“I feel like we’ve been gaining on it,” Kenseth said. “I thought at Kentucky we were all pretty good. At Loudon, we were all really good. I thought we were all top-five cars (but race-winner) Brad (Keselowski) had us.

“Here (at Indy) we were more like third to eighth-place cars. When we had track position we were pretty quick.”

But there could be a problem brewing.

After all 43 cars went through technical inspection following Sunday’s race, Hamlin’s car was found to have several rear firewall block-off plates “we could have possible issues with,” NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said.

“We’re going to take them back to (NASCAR’s Resdarch and Development Center in Concord, N.C.), look at them closer and if we have to do anything further, we will,” Tharp added.

If there indeed is an issue, Hamlin, crew chief Darian Grubb and team owner Joe Gibbs could all face possible sanctions. Tharp did not elaborate on the scope of the issue or how serious any potential violation might be.

Hamlin led 18 laps of Sunday’s race around the 2.5-mile oval.

Overall, two of JGR’s drivers improved in the overall Sprint Cup standings. While Kenseth remained in fourth-place, Busch improved two spots, going from eighth to sixth.

“Today’s performance was good,” Busch said. “We want to win and I think this is my second second-place finish here. It’s frustrating in that respect, but it’s rewarding because we’ve been a little behind this year and it seemed like we had some good speed this weekend.

“There was no catching the 24 (Gordon), it was in a league of his own. He was able to make passes and the guys that could make passes like that have the best cars here. There was no doubt that he should have been the winner.”

Kenseth trails points leader Gordon by 56 points, while Busch is 108 points back.

Hamlin, meanwhile, climbed from 12th to 11th (145 points behind Gordon) – pending, of course, if any penalties are issued by NASCAR Tuesday or Wednesday if the firewall plates are found to be against the rules.

As for the other Toyota Sprint Cup team Sunday, Michael Waltrip Racing, Clint Bowyer finished 16th and Brian Vickers 19th.

NASCAR America: Joe Gibbs Racing heating up at the right time


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MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Friday notebook

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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INDIANAPOLIS – Teams have loaded in for this weekend’s Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with testing set all day on Saturday and Sunday for all three rungs of the series: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Some notes from the day are below.

  • Pabst Racing has been busy with testing its new Tatuus PM-18 in recent weeks, to add to its trio of USF-17s. The team has two PM-18 chassis with one completed and built up, and which Calvin Ming will test this weekend. Augie Pabst’s Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team won the team championship in USF2000 this season.
  • Look for Ayla Agren to test Pabst’s PM-18 next week for several days. The talented Indianapolis-based Norwegian/Swede is a past F1600 champion and has raced in parts of the last three USF2000 seasons with Team Pelfrey and John Cummiskey Racing; Agren is working on stepping up into Pro Mazda next season.
  • Another intriguing Pabst USF2000 product this weekend is New Zealander Hunter McElrea, a 17-year-old go-kart veteran who completed his first season of car racing this year in Australian Formula Ford. He was unlucky to only end fourth in the year’s championship, with several poles and wins but a bit of inconsistency that cost him the title. His father, Andy McElrea, has been in the U.S. before moving back home, where he’s enjoyed success as a driver, engineer and team director. The younger McElrea said he “learned heaps” this year and is optimistic of building a budget to come Stateside in 2018, and said it was a bit surreal to have his first real run at IMS. Born in the U.S., McElrea holds both U.S. and New Zealand dual citizenship.
  • Arguably the busiest driver in the month or so since the Watkins Glen season finale has been Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, who’s had several Pro Mazda tests with three different teams (Pabst, Juncos Racing and Exclusive Autosport) and will run this weekend with Belardi Auto Racing in Indy Lights, and will work with engineer Kent Boyer. VeeKay would succeed in North America for a second year, as he contemplates whether to move up from USF2000 into Pro Mazda or emulate RC Enerson in going from USF2000 straight to Indy Lights. VeeKay’s No. 4 car was Shelby Blackstock’s chassis from the 2017 season.
  • Teammate Nico Jamin, who was busy with several different types of cars this year besides his primary role in Indy Lights, will test Belardi’s No. 5 car, which was Santiago Urrutia’s chassis, and work with engineer Tim Neff. Jamin got the call a couple weeks ago and has come back from his home country of France, where he’s been since shortly after the season ended.
  • The third Belardi car, the No. 9 car still in the Mazda “soul red” livery for 2016 Pro Mazda champion Aaron Telitz, is on site this weekend. Telitz will test with RJB Motorsports’ USF2000 team – the car having been returned from ArmsUp Motorsports for this test – and the Birchwood, Wis. native will have the chance to work with open-wheel veterans Alex Barron and Mirl Swan as part of RJB’s crew. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Telitz also running in other cars and series this weekend.
  • At least for this test, Cape Motorsports’ Pro Mazda car has a cool “magic 8 ball” livery for Oliver Askew. The primarily black with some white paint scheme probably wouldn’t stay that way provided Mazda’s scholarship comes with the switch to a “soul red” livery once the season properly commences.
  • Jake Craig, who will test with Newman Wachs Racing this test, has been awarded the eKartingNews.com Karting Entry Ticket for this year’s Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout. The 19-year-old native of Mission Viejo, Calif. is the 12th driver who has a confirmed ticket so far for the shootout, which takes place in December in Arizona.
  • Colton Herta is in a funny spot with regards to World Series preference depending on whether the New York Yankees or Houston Astros wins tonight’s Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, as the Yankees lead the series 3-2 heading into tonight’s game and look to advance to the World Series to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. Herta grew up a Dodgers fan but his Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing team features team principal George Michael Steinbrenner IV, son of Hank Steinbrenner, and the Steinbrenners of course are the Yankees’ principal owners. Perhaps it’s a good problem to have?
  • Myles Rowe, who’s won three races in six starts in the Lucas Oil School of Racing, will be in one of John Cummiskey Racing’s Tatuus USF-17 chassis this weekend. The Smyrna, Ga. native has a good head on his shoulders and could well impress.