Now would be a heck of a time for Joe Gibbs Racing to solve the speed woes it’s faced throughout this season.
JGR got an encouraging sign last night during qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as Kyle Busch won the pole and Denny Hamlin earned a third-place position on the grid for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500.
Performance on 1.5-mile tracks have been relatively lacking for JGR compared to the stellar showing they had on those tracks last year.
But as Hamlin explained yesterday before qualifying, the Chase format enables teams in it to potentially get hot at the right time – and JGR’s trying to do just that.
Even so, Hamlin seems to be taking a cautiously optimistic stance for the time being.
“We feel better about things obviously, but you’re living week to week now,” Hamlin said. “Your situation changes so much from week to week depending on what your situation is and points and how your day is going that you can go from having a lot of confidence to feeling like you’re going to be left out with one mistake and one race.”
It almost came to that for Hamlin in the Challenger Round.
At New Hampshire, Hamlin was running well and appeared set to go into the elimination race at Dover in great shape.
Instead, he had a fuel probe issue that knocked him several laps down and then crashed after that.
The Loudon disaster put Hamlin six points behind the cutoff and into a pressure-packed situation at the Monster Mile.
Fortunately for him, his 12th-place finish there was enough for a trip to the Contender Round – which he opened solidly last weekend at Kansas with a seventh-place run.
If he can get out of Charlotte with another good finish, Hamlin thinks he’s in for better things. He’s won at all five of the remaining Chase tracks in his career and has multiple wins on three of them (four wins at Martinsville, two apiece at Texas and Homestead).
And if JGR can keep making gains on speed, that’s all the better for him.
“Obviously, I am encouraged about how we are running at some of these tracks that haven’t been our best in the past knowing that we’re getting to those last four race tracks that we feel very, very comfortable with,” he said.
“I’m hoping we continue this trend line up and it’s heading in the right direction, I just hope it keeps going because we’re going to need that little bit of extra speed when we get to these last four.”