Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LONG POND, PA – Two days before Kyle Busch’s victory in last Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway, Denny Hamlin provided a precise blueprint for his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate’s sixth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the season.
A post-qualifying inspection failure knocked Busch’s No. 18 Toyota off the front row and back to a 28th-place starting position. In short order, however, Busch charged through the field, and a pit stop with four other Toyotas three laps before the end of Stage 2 allowed him to stay out under the caution at stage’s end and ultimately take the lead.
Busch survived two late restarts and held off teammate Daniel Suarez for his 49th career victory, a triumph that tied him with Tony Stewart for 13th on the all-time list.
In a sit-down with reporters on Friday afternoon at Pocono, Hamlin explained how his teammate has been able to separate himself from the rest of the JGR drivers.
“They out-execute what their car is capable of every single week,” Hamlin said of the No. 18 team, led by crew chief Adam Stevens. “He qualifies well. He doesn’t lose his track position throughout the course of a race. At the end, the pit crew picks up three or four spots. The next thing you know he’s restarting on the front row.”
Hamlin acknowledged that his on No. 11 team hasn’t been able to match the performance of the 2015 series champion.
“That’s something we have not done, to execute to the level that the 18 has,” Hamlin said. “He’s really good about being able to finish better with a car that’s not quite as good. In general, at JGR, we have our struggles, but they do a phenomenal job. You just look at execution, and that’s the biggest difference I see between him and us.”
As an organization, JGR is also working through a transition from experience to youth. Gone are Carl Edwards to retirement and 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth to make room for Erik Jones in the No. 20 car. Both Jones and Suarez are in their sophomore seasons at NASCAR’s highest level, and both are still learning.
“Certainly, when we had myself, Carl, Matt and Kyle, you weren’t having to think about, ‘Well, this is Daniel’s or Erik’s first time at a track, and they’re leaning on you for information,” said the 37-year-old Hamlin, the senior member of the JGR driver corps. “So how much information do you really lean back on them, because they are inexperienced, and they have to go through that struggle period, where we would always talk about, ‘Hey, a few years ago we did this, and it really worked well.’
“Things just clicked, and things were good. But sometimes those things take time. As an organization, we probably weren’t totally patient with Joey Logano, and look how it all worked out. He moved teams (to Team Penske), and all of a sudden—bam—it clicked for him. I think you have to be patient and go through the process to hopefully have the fruits and the benefits later.”
While Hamlin waits patiently, Busch keeps winning. But that doesn’t mean Hamlin has lost confidence, either in himself or in his team.
“Anybody who thinks I can’t win any given week is crazy,” Hamlin asserted.