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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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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