Joe Gibbs quartet still pushing for Sprint Cup title shot
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — All four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers are still in contention for the three spots left to race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup season championship.
There are only two races left to clinch those spots, and at least one of them won’t make it.
Plus, JGR teammates Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards aren’t the only drivers trying to join Jimmie Johnson for a title shot in the Chase-deciding finale at Homestead in two weeks.
“Our goal was to have four cars at Homestead and now there’s only three spots left,” Kenseth said. “Every week we talk about what we can do to help each other, and make things better but we also realize when they drop the green on Sunday, it’s one against 39 and have to get the best finish we can for our respective teams.”
All the Gibbs drivers have won at Texas, where the second race of the third round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs is Sunday.
Led by the former NFL coach as their team owner, they have worked together during Chase races.
Still, Busch expressed frustration after Martinsville last week when Hamlin defended his position ahead of Kenseth and Busch. Six-time Cup champion Johnson won the race to lock into the first of the four spots for the championship run at Homestead.
“Maybe I was expecting a little bit different than what transpired in the race,” Busch said. “But we talked, forgive and forget, and move on, and here we are.”
At Talladega the week before that, Busch, Edwards and Kenseth stayed out of trouble at the back of the pack together since they were already guaranteed a spot in the third round of the playoffs as long as they stayed out of trouble. They did, while Hamlin raced up front and did just enough to advance as well.
Busch said the team has to focus forward and try to work together the best they can, like they have all season.
“We know the reason we are in this predicament is because of our teamwork and our relationships and our camaraderie 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,” he said.
Kenseth described their teamwork as “second to none.”
Johnson, who has won the last four fall races at Texas, qualified 19th at Texas. Austin Dillon is on the pole, two weeks after Hamlin had a tiebreaker against him following Talladega to get the final spot in the round of eight.
Kenseth, the highest-qualifying JGR car, starts seventh and just ahead of Edwards, who qualified ninth. Hamlin starts 17th and Busch 24th after a water leak kept him from taking a lap in the second round of qualifying Friday.
“I’ve got great teammates,” Edwards said. “All of us have worked really, really well all year at raising each other’s level of performance so we’ll just continue to work as hard as we can like we’ve been doing but then we race each other really hard at the race track too. … Once the green flag drops we all know how to race each other.”
The non-JGR drivers other than Johnson who are still contending for a spot to drive for the championship at Homestead:
–Joey Logano (fifth, 11 points behind Johnson). The Team Penske driver has five top-10 finishes in the seven playoff races so far. He starts second at Texas, like he did in April when he finished third.
–Kevin Harvick (sixth, 23 points behind Johnson). While Harvick has won twice since the playoffs began, the 2014 Cup champion also has finishes of 37th and 38th and two races where he finished 20th in that stretch. He starts third at Texas.
–Kurt Busch (seventh, 25 points behind Johnson). The 2004 Cup champion, the Stewart-Haas teammate of Harvick’s, was in the 12th and final spot to get into the playoffs. He finished fourth at Talladega, but was 22nd at Martinsville. He qualified 10th this week.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.