Carl Edwards’s win Sunday in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway was the fifth win this season for Joe Gibbs Racing in the first nine races of the Sprint Cup Series season.
Gibbs’ early season success should come as no surprise as the four-car operation of Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin actually began their domination in the series when the four drivers combined to win 11 of the last 21 races of the 2015 season. Those results combined have Gibbs making 16 trips to victory lane over the last 30 Sprint Cup point races.
Sunday’s final laps were especially tough for team owner Joe Gibbs as the final laps came down to a battle between Busch and Edwards. It’s one of the best scenarios an owner can have with two of his drivers running first and second, but it can come with some anxious moments.
The final lap on Sunday was one of those finishes that did provide Gibbs with some anxious moments, as once the white flag waved to begin the final lap Edwards began to put the pressure on Busch for the lead. He attempted a pass going into the first turn only to come up short, but got a great run going into turn three down on the bottom of the racetrack. Busch brought his Toyota down to the bottom also, but Edwards had the momentum and made the decision to put his bumper to the rear of Busch’s car.
Edwards’s bump sent Busch up the track enough for him to make the pass and go on for his second consecutive win. In an interview immediately after the race, Gibbs did not sound like someone who was happy with the way the race ended. The bump-and-run move will be called dirty by some, but has been around as long as there have been checkered flags. Since the move was made on a teammate, it once again raised questions about team rules and the finish of a race, but that is not the case with Gibbs.
Gibbs, with his three Super Bowl titles, is one of the more competitive men in the sport. It is no secret he wants drivers that are just as competitive, but he was quick to point out that he had more worries from the finish than just some hurt feelings between teammates and teams. He knows that as an owner he has to answer to sponsors who will raise questions about why a teammate knocked “their” driver out of a win.
Banfield Pet Hospital was on the hood of Busch’s car for the first time, and Gibbs knows that putting the car in victory lane would go a long way in forging a long relationship with the sponsor. But being an owner of a multi-car operation means that you have to keep more than one sponsor happy. On the hood of Edwards’ car was another new sponsor in Xfinity, which is part of the Comcast family that was on the hood of Edwards’ winning car last week at Bristol.
Gibbs’ success has been based on getting each of his four teams to work together for the greater good of his large operation and this week he may have to work overtime to make sure that philosophy stays in place. He no doubt began his damage control campaign before he left the track on Sunday, but Tuesday was especially tough as that is when all four teams’ personnel got together in a competition meeting to share information.
The belief here is that JGR will show up this weekend at Talladega united in their efforts to notch its sixth win of the season, but don’t expect Kyle Busch to forget what took place at Richmond. The old driver saying of, “I will race you the way you race me” still rings true in the series and at some point this season Edwards will see Busch in his rearview mirror in the closing laps and he should know what to expect.
Race Preview Event: GEICO 500 Track: Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile tri-oval, 33o of banking in the turns). Date: May 1, 1 p.m. TV: FOX. Radio: MRN. Defending Champion: Dale Earnhardt Jr.