Heading into Infineon Raceway last weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing was on top of the NASCAR mountain. And by the time the team left Northern California, it was beaten down but good, looking up at the lofty perch it had fallen far and fast from.
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JGR drivers Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch had won seven of the prior 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup races prior to Infineon, with Busch and Hamlin second and third, respectively, in points. But on the road course, Busch, Hamlin and Joey Logano all crashed, with Logano posting the team’s best finish of 33rd.
This weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway ought to be a good barometer of whether Infineon was an aberration or a true setback.
For his part, Busch insisted no one on the team is panicking on the basis of a single bad race weekend after a season full of good ones.
“I don’t think there’s any extra emphasis at all,” he said, when asked about Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301.
From Busch’s perspective, Infineon was just one of those races where everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
“It was just unfortunate circumstances last week that took us all out of good runs,” said Busch. “Denny and myself both getting caught up in incidents that happened in front of us and then Joey, I’m not sure what happened to him, he knocked the radiator out of it I think. He didn’t know it and then blew up with one lap to go running 20th or 22nd. We went from having the best eight or 10 weeks of JGR’s life to having one of the worst. That’s how quick this sport can change.”
Hamlin also was quick to brush off what happened at Infineon.
“It’s a total different beast,” he said of the road course. “We only run two of those a year. Road courses, really, we didn’t spend much effort on that track. Obviously, we were going to run much better than what we finished. We didn’t finish bad because we ran that bad. We just got into a lot of incidents and whatnot. Really, we were cutting the car up in the garage laughing about it. To us, it’s no big deal.”
The team has cause for optimism this week. All three JGR drivers have won Cup races at the 1.058-mile oval, with Logano the defending event winner. In the most recent NHMS race last fall, Hamlin finished second and Busch fifth.
In qualifying Friday afternoon, the three JGR Toyotas were disappointing. Logano led the way at 11th, but Hamlin was 20th and Busch 22nd. And with track position at a premium at NHMS, Sunday could be a struggle for the squad.
“Overall, this has been a tough track for myself here in the past,” said Busch. “Last year we did fairly well here. Denny has always run well here so hopefully we can get some good results like we had last year again this year.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEEDtv.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.