Interview

Gibbs Drivers Not Phased By Early Struggles

By: Cole Cusumano
Photo By: Russell Labounty | Nigel Kinrade Photography
AVONDALE, Ariz. —- Entering Phoenix Raceway for the FanShield 500, Joe Gibbs Racing will do so with a minor chip on their shoulders.
With the exception of the Daytona 500 that was won by Denny Hamlin, the Toyota racing team that has dominated the NASCAR Cup Series for years has seen the likes of Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports get the best of them in the first handful of races for 2020.
But it goes beyond race day results. The organization led by NFL and NASCAR Hall of Famer, Joe Gibbs, has shown a drastic lack of speed right off the truck each weekend. Not only that, they’ve been marred by numerous infractions upon pre and post-qualifying inspection.
The lack of performance has everyone wondering, “What’s wrong with Joe Gibbs Racing?”
“It’s collective,” Denny Hamlin told POPULAR SPEED. “Qualifying was one of those eye-opening things for us. Being essentially one of the last cars of the big teams and really just a lack of overall grip and speed. Those are two things you have to have, you can have one or the other and still be competitive, but if you have both, you’ll go out and dominate like the 88 (Alex Bowman) did. That’s something we’re striving for.”
The driver of the No. 19, Martin Truex Jr., echoed the same sentiments as his teammate saying, “sometimes things just don’t go your way and that’s just been the case.”
While it’s easy to chalk it up to equipment, balance or handling, the Toyota Racing team knows they must give credit where it is due.
After an abysmal two year, Chevrolet crafted a newly designed Camaro to enhance the competitive edge of the cars. The results have been an all around success from practice leading up to race day. Hendrick Motorsports has topped the speed charts in the last five practice sessions. On top of that, Alex Bowman brought the second-winningest team in Cup Series history to victory lane for the first time in 10 races last weekend, and Chase Elliott sits on the pole for the FanShielf 500 at Phoenix Raceway.
“They probably and most likely made significant advances,” Hamlin admitted. “Then you have the Fords who were not just going to sit back and let us win all the races, so they went to work extra hard.”
It’s been a tough go-around for Joe Gibbs Racing, but the drivers have all the confidence in the world about their ability to turn it all around. After all, this organization has dominated the Cup Series for the better part of almost five years.
“It’s three weeks and we’ve got a great team, great cars and a lot of really awesome people around us,” Truex said. “We’ve been fast, it’s not like we’re not performing. It’s just been little things here and there that we’ve got to fix.”
Both of the Toyota Racing teammates are not fearing the worst just yet and they are certain that it’s only a matter of time before they start clicking off wins. Things have already begun to turn around in Arizona, as this was the first weekend of the season that a Joe Gibbs Racing driver did not receive a penalty during qualifying inspection.
The driver of the No. 19 will be starting from the rear due to an engine change, but this has been the only blemish at Phoenix thus far. All four cars showed speed all weekend and the deepest a JGR driver qualified was 12th.
If there’s any track that could get the Toyota team back to its winning ways, it’s Phoenix Raceway. Over the last three years, a Joe Gibbs Racing driver found victory lane four times and they are currently on a three race win streak at the one-mile speedway. Should things go awry yet again this weekend, then it may be time to push the panic button; but history says they’ll be just fine.

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