Joe Gibbs Racing teammates work through differences from Martinsville
Team owner Joe Gibbs had a drivers-only meeting to clear the air following a frustrating race a week ago.
In the heat of the moment Kyle Busch admits he wasn’t happy with Denny Hamlin during the deciding laps of last Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway, but after he, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards met midweek the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates came to an understanding how to race one another.
“We talked, forgive and forget and move on, and here we are,” Busch said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Kenseth and Busch were running third and fourth, respectively, directly behind Hamlin, who instead of letting his faster teammates pass without impediment vigorously defended his position. That upset Busch, who felt Hamlin’s actions allowed Jimmie Johnson to build an insurmountable lead and clinch one of four available spots in the championship round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Johnson would go on to win the first of three races in the Chase’s semifinal round. Meanwhile, the battle amongst the three teammates allowed Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski to pass the three teammates and finish second. Hamlin finished third, Kenseth fourth and Busch fifth. (Edwards finished 36th due to a tire failure and subsequent crash.)
Afterward Busch was critical of Hamlin and questioned JGR’s teamwork saying, “We gave (Johnson) the win today. That’s how good JGR is.”
To squelch tensions team owner Joe Gibbs called a drivers-only meeting this week, first reported by NBC Sports. In that meeting Busch, Edwards, Hamlin and Kenseth reviewed the situation.
“The reason Denny did what he did is because now he has a third-place finish … which is the best [finish] of Matt and I, if there was a tiebreaker situation,” Busch said. “That’s what Denny was looking for and I get it, I understand it. I didn’t in the time frame that we were racing one another because I was more focused on one of us trying to go get the win and trying to still keep all of us eligible.
“Denny did what he needed to do, which is respectable and understandable.”
But complicating matters is that Johnson’s Martinsville win assures at least of one of JGR’s four drivers will not to advance to the championship bracket. It’s part of NASCAR’s unique structure where teammates work closely off the track in myriad ways, then compete against one another during a race.
“There’s a lot of huge benefits to having good teammates and talented teammates and crew chiefs and all that stuff,” Kenseth said. “The only downfall you can find of it is it’s hard to beat them when they are in the same stuff.”
Hamlin, Kenseth and Busch currently hold the final three transfer spots with two races remaining before the eight-driver field is cut in half. A win by any title-eligible either Sunday or next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway automatically qualifies them for the subsequent round.
Despite the narrower path to advance and the fact doing so will come at the expense of a teammate, Busch stressed JGR must avoid incidents like what occurred at Martinsville and continue working together for the greater good.
“Looking back on it now, we have to focus forward and make sure we all try to work together best we can,” Busch said. “Because we know the reason we are in this predicament is because of our teamwork and our relationships and our comradery that we have at the race shop each and every week that gets us to the point of being as good as we are on Sunday.”
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