At the end of the 2009 season Denny Hamlin stood in victory lane and promised NASCAR fans that he would contend for the title and would win it. We are halfway through the NASCAR Sprint Cup season; where does Joe Gibbs Racing stack up?
Hamlin sits fifth in the standings but come this fall when the Chase resets he should be locked into one of the top two spots. Through the first five races of the season it was not a very impressive start. He was not showing the championship form he promised.
He announced prior to Martinsville he would have surgery on his torn ACL. The media and fans were questioning whether or not this takes him out of the championship picture. Hamlin went on to win five of the next 10 races; his first win came at Martinsville.
Hamlin’s season though has been plagued by inconsistency. One week they look like the team to beat and the next week they look just average. He has seven top 10’s and seven top fives, but he has 10 finishes of 17th or worse.
Hamlin seems to have a few great weeks than multiple bad weeks. Can they win the title with such inconsistency?
If Hamlin and his team want to beat Johnson he will need to be near perfect during the Chase.
It was just two years ago that Kyle Busch looked well on his way to winning the championship in 2008. When the Chase came this team struggled with mechanical issues and other freak incidents. These issues took them from contender to pretender in less than 50 laps at New Hampshire.
In 2010, Busch’s sole focus is the Sprint Cup series but their season has been marred by inconsistency and lack of speed week in and out. Busch sits sixth in the standings and even though he has two wins. He could have won more had it not been for a late race caution at Phoenix for example.
Busch has five top fives and nine top 10’s but has not had a top 10 finish since Pocono is June, where he finished second. For Busch the team has struggled with speed during some of the races and being in the wrong place at the wrong time in other races.
Even with his two wins this team has some work to do if they want to be serious contenders. They have to run up front consistently and be able to make the car better as the race continues.
Joey Logano early on this season looked like a Chase contender. A string of tough races following his 10th place finish at Phoenix saw him plummet in the standings. His best finish was second at Martinsville Speedway, behind teammate Hamlin.
Logano has had the more bad luck than his teammates. He has been caught up in accidents or late race incident like the now infamous contact with Kevin Harvick at Pocono. The post race fireworks were bigger than the actual incident on the track.
Logano though has shown at times this season a preview of what is to come in the next few years. He is more than capable of winning championships but like his teammates, he has to find consistency to be a Chase contender.
JGR is young, talented and driven but all three drivers are still learning and developing. I believe Hamlin and Busch will challenge for the title this season. There are still questions to be answered by this team.
Can they bounce back after the bad races? Also, can they capitalize on others mistakes? JGR has struggled with both of these questions this season. Capitalizing on others mistakes was a part of what won Johnson four titles.
Their quest for a championship at JGR continues next week at Indianapolis.