1.5-mile magic tough to recapture in 2014 for Joe Gibbs Racing


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.”

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.