By Jared Turner
Winners of five of the past six races, Joe Gibbs Racing is on a roll unlike any seen in a long time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway offers JGR’s competition renewed hope, however.
That’s because the last time a JGR driver conquered the “Monster Mile” was 2010, when Kyle Busch went to Victory Lane in his No. 18 Toyota. There have since been 11 winners at Dover, but none have been from the JGR stable.
So will this weekend see a non-JGR driver and team at least temporarily put a stop to the JGR juggernaut?
The best hope of that happening is, without question, Jimmie Johnson.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver and six-time Sprint Cup Series champion is the all-time wins leader at the steep, 1-mile Delaware track with 10 victories.
Johnson, understandably, sees no reason why he can’t slow down the Gibbs boys this weekend.
“It’s a fun racetrack,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a track that really suits my style, and the stats show that. There’s a certain rhythm there. You have to be comfortable with typically the racecar at least into the corner, then you have to figure out somehow to make it turn the center, fight forward grip up off the corner to run a good lap there.”
Kevin Harvick, who won last fall’s race at Dover in commanding fashion, could be JGR’s stiffest challenge this weekend – if Johnson isn’t.
“For me, Dover is one of those tracks where you feel the speed the most. You carry a lot of speed through the corners and, as you go from the straightaways, the elevation change as you go down in the corners is pretty drastic,” Harvick said. “And then you’re right back in the throttle and it kind of throws you back out of that hole and up the hill on the exit of the corner. Laps seem to happen very fast there and you want to try and have the best-handling racecar you can have there because, if you’re off even a little bit, you’ll go multiple laps down in a hurry. It’s a fun, very fast racetrack that’s really hard to get everything right.”
Beating JGR certainly won’t be easy for anyone. JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards collectively have captured five of the past six races, with Busch going to Victory Lane last Saturday night at Kansas Speedway – a track where he has historically struggled.
“We appreciate everybody working so hard back at the shop,” team owner and three-time Super Bowl-winning coach Joe Gibbs said after Busch’s Kansas victory. “It’s a total team effort. I say that all the time. We got everybody back at the shop working on the cars.
“It takes all of us to do this, to be a part of this. The hardest thing in pro sports is to stay up there every week. Right now it’s been a thrill.”
Busch, the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion, brings no shortage of confidence into Dover, a track where he owns a pair of wins at NASCAR’s premier level despite JGR’s recent shortcomings at the track.
“Dover, being a concrete track, is challenging,” said Busch, who nabbed his first win at Dover in the spring of 2008. “They are all a challenge, but Dover is especially so just because of the way you have to run around that place. Some of the most challenging times are when you’re trying to get through traffic with guys. We had good races there the last couple of years but haven’t been able to finish them off, so I hope we can keep the momentum going there again this weekend and get a win with our Camry.”