Over the course of the last 11 races, eight of them have been won by Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, with Kyle Busch snagging four wins, Matt Kenseth winning three races and Carl Edwards scoring a single win. With all four drivers within the organization qualified for the Chase for the Championship, it would look as though the chances are in their favor for success. There are even some predictors that have placed more than one of the four drivers in the final round at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
“I think we have a really good chance at putting multiple cars in the final round,” Edwards cited. “The way we’ve been running – as fast as everybody is – it’s going to be a fun Chase for us.”
Denny Hamlin added that he thinks they have a good shot, as they’re performing better this year at this point than they were last year, and he was able to be part of the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“This year I definitely feel like we have more opportunities to make it to the final four,” he added. “We all said at the beginning of the year we all wanted to be the last four guys standing and give Joe (Gibbs, team owner) his first championship in a really long time and I don’t see why that can’t happen. So, pretty optimistic right now that JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) has got a great shot at – four shots at a championship.”
Their advantage is recognized by the competition with Bowyer citing that “you got a lot of money over there,” in his comment entering the weekend. Though Bowyer also stated that each of the four drivers can drive, and they have the right person steering the ship with Joe Gibbs calling the shots.
“I mean, this man has accomplished – anything that you’ve ever put across the table for Joe Gibbs to accomplish, he gets the job done and certainly doing so in this sport,” he commented.
Ultimately, if the races fall right for JGR, they could sweep the final round of the Chase, which is something that has been their goal since the beginning of the season.
“I think that was Matt Kenseth’s statement the first meeting we had in the first 30 seconds of the meeting this year,” Edwards said. “He said that should be our mission and that’s what he believes we can do and we need to work towards that. I had fun racing with those guys when we were one-two-three-four at Richmond (International Raceway) the other night. I mean, that’s as good as it gets.”
Though while Kenseth stated that fact pre-season, he also admits that anything can happen as the Chase breaks down, citing last year as an example.
“I think you’ve got to look at all 16 honestly the way this system works,” he commented. “Last year (at) Homestead (Miami Speedway), there was a guy who dominated all year and Joey (Logano) was super-fast all year and there was a couple guys that got in on consistency making it through every round, so there’s not a – I mean, the only way you know you can get there for sure is to win three races – win the first race of every round. I don’t know – anything can happen. Three races is a lot to recover from a bad finish.”
While competing against each other on track, the four drivers seem to have a good relationship off the track, which makes it easy for the teams to share notes and improve across the board. Edwards noted that things have gone better than he expected, noted that they’re all “super race car drivers” and are “working really well as a group” right now.
“We’re very competitive with one another, but there’s nothing negative that comes out of us interacting,” he added. “It’s all really good and it’s been neat.”
Edwards added that it caught him off-guard with how descriptive Denny Hamlin can be about his car, and how Busch approaches a race.
“Matt (Kenseth) is the same Matt that he’s always been – he really understands from start to finish how to go fast and he understands the racing and he communicates it so well,” he added. “I sit in those meetings and really I’m blown away. I have these three guys who not only are very good, but they’re very willing to share, they’re very good at describing what’s going on.
“For instance, Denny can – we’ll be sitting there and he’ll talk about a pattern the way the race track took rubber from two years ago at some race and he’s like, ‘Remember, don’t forget that this track does this here,’ and I’m just like, ‘Man, that’s really spectacular.’ And then Kyle came back and it feels like his performance kind of motivated us and everybody kind of pushes everyone in a really positive way. It just has a neat feel to it.”
The four drivers of JGR – Kenseth, Edwards, Hamlin and Busch – seem to be the right mix of experience, but also carry a certain drive for success and have the ability behind the wheel. While some may call Kenseth the “elder statesman” of the organization, Edwards says that as a group, they all “have enough experience to know what this opportunity is about, to realize the size of the opportunity we have.”
There are some thoughts that perhaps the performance will fall off in the Chase, whether due to failing as a reult of the pressure or a fall-out in communication between the driver. Though according to Edwards, everything that he has seen so far from the meetings with team owner Joe Gibbs, to the meetings with Toyota Racing Development and his fellow drivers, they should be able to keep it up and win the championship.
“These teams are so strong right now and the cars are fast and really we just keep doing what we’re doing, ignore the – whatever anybody says – the performance speaks for itself. It’s really cool,” he commented.
Edwards added that he doesn’t see Gibbs allowing a fall-out in communication as he keeps a “very open atmosphere” that blends being competitive, but also helping each other at the same time.
If one of the four was able to win the championship, it’d mark the first title for Toyota in the Sprint Cup Series. For the Toyota drivers, it’d be huge to deliver on that for the manufacture as Edwards notes that he has “been blown away at how much they care about competition” since making the move to Joe Gibbs Racing over the off-season.
“David Wilson (TRD, U.S.A. president) is standing here,” Edwards added. “I spent some time with him out in California and he described to me from start to finish how TRD has really developed, so everything they do for our sport, as much as fun as I know they would have winning it, it would be really special to win it for them.”