Coca-Cola 600: A Step in the Right Direction for Joe Gibbs Racing

Coca-Cola 600: A Step in the Right Direction for Joe Gibbs Racing

CONCORD, NC – It has been one of the most often and well-documented stories of the 2017  Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Joe Gibbs Racing’s absence from victory lane.

The JGR organization, without a doubt, entered Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 with a renewed energy and momentum after Kyle Busch’s victory last weekend in the Monster Energy All-Star Race.

It appeared early and often in the Coca-Cola 600 that one of the JGR drivers would prevail at the end of NASCAR’s longest event. In fact, Gibbs drivers, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin won the first and third stages respectively.

At the end of the day, all four of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas finished in the top-11 positions on the leaderboard. Kyle Busch finished in the runner-up position, Matt Kenseth in fourth, Hamlin in fifth, and rookie driver Daniel Suárez rounded out the JGR contingent in eleventh.

The race would be won by Austin Dillon, who gambled on fuel strategy and was able to stretch his fuel load from his final pit stop all the way to the end on a 67-lap green flag run. The No. 18 M&Ms Camry closed the gap to the leaders but ran out of time finishing just 0.835-seconds behind Dillon.

After the race, Busch spoke with the media stating that “we had one of the fastest cars all night long and then the 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.)  was probably the fastest car but there at the end somehow we ran him”. Busch acknowledged that he was able to catch the No. 78 of Truex, when at times he was a full straightaway of Busch’s No. 18.

Busch admitted to being frustrated with his finish saying, “So, so disappointed, I don’t know, we ran our own race, we did what we needed to do and it wasn’t the right game, so we come up short in second”.

Although the finish is not what Busch wanted nor had in mind, it was his 16th top-10 finish in 27 races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and his sixth top-10 finish in 2017.

Busch’s teammate Denny Hamlin rebounded from an early pit-road penalty, leading four laps, and finishing in fifth. “We had a really fast car and I think better than a fifth-place car. I just had one really bad restart with 70 to go and this late in the game when the track cools off it’s too hard to pass to lose that many positions”, Hamlin said.

The pit stop Hamlin referred to caused him to restart the race in the seventh position and he wasn’t able to get any higher than fifth, given track position and varying fuel strategies.

While both drivers would have hoped for better finishes, the Joe Gibbs Racing organization can reflect on this race as a potential step in the right direction. Given the downforce package and stage segments, to finish the most demanding race of the year with three cars in the top-5 is nothing to hang their heads on.

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