I think one of the more interesting storylines to follow during these hot summer months is Joe Gibbs Racing. Now sure, they have some victories under their belt but it’s not going smoothly over there right now. I think it will be interesting to see how folks like Jimmy Makar, one of the original members of JGR and the senior VP of racing operations, plus President J.D. Gibbs and owner Joe Gibbs weather this storm.
Their marquee driver, the unstoppable force known as Kyle Busch, continues to struggle and have problems. You just know that is not sitting well in his world. His patience has to be wearing thin.
Teammate Denny Hamlin has had success early, but he surely has to be having flashbacks to last year wondering if they are simply going to make the Chase but not be a real factor.
Then the third driver at JGR is the young man Joey Logano. Sure, he won a race a few weeks ago, but that really hasn’t helped quell all the talk about what his future is or isn’t at JGR. He was put through an awful lot last year with all the talk of Carl Edwards possibly taking over the No. 20 car.
That didn’t happen. Joey is still driving the Home Depot car. As I mentioned, he's won a race this year, but still folks are taking pot shots at him wondering “will he be there – will he not be there in 2013?” That kind of talk does nothing to help create positive momentum for that No. 20 team.
Then there is the engine situation with TRD – which JGR elected to switch to (or was semi-forced to switch to). That is still an area where there are some problems. It’s very disruptive to the flow of things when your managers are coming into your office on Monday morning asking questions about how the engine program is going to be fixed.
It’s almost like fighting a war. It is hard enough to fight the competition, let alone at the same time be fighting your allies. These are real issues that have to be addressed or its going to continue to pull your organization down.
Let’s face it, the No. 18 car is barely holding on to a spot in the Chase. That’s not where they want to be or expect to be. That is magnified even more with a guy as gifted as Kyle Busch at the wheel.
All three drivers are fighting their own demons. In Denny’s case, I believe he is still mentally trying to recover from coming so close to winning, but ultimately losing the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. They had a chance to win the whole thing but the team kind of imploded there at the end of the season and it slipped through their fingers.
Then last year, they limped into the Chase and were never a real contender for the championship. Denny has to remember all this. It’s human nature after all. So Denny is caught looking backward just as much as he is looking forward.
In Joey’s case, it’s the entire unknown. That unknown of course is his future at Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s all a mental game. Even when he is doing everything right, yet unable to get answers about his future from the ownership, well that is simply hard on anyone.
Kyle Busch is a hard charger. I liken him to a present-day Cale Yarborough. Like Cale, Kyle will drive the wheels off whatever you give him. If it will stay under him, it will get to Victory Lane. He has the God-given talent to do all that. Kyle also has the temperament of a Cale Yarborough – so when things start going wrong repeatedly, he is going to get mad. I think that is where Kyle is right now.
Joe Gibbs Racing is like a blender right now. Things are going around and around and around. A lot of things are being chopped up inside of it. I don’t think you can be a consistent championship team let alone survive in this sport with things going on like that.
They have to work through some of these issues. If they don’t, they will begin to take a toll on everyone. The great teams, when they have problems, respond quickly and eliminate the issues right away. That’s where Joe Gibbs Racing is right now. How quickly they can weather this current wave of issues will define how quickly they can get back on top in our sport.