HUNTERSVILLE – It’s not quite Title Town, U.S.A.
Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t captured a major-series NASCAR drivers’ championship since Kyle Busch’s Nationwide Series title in 2009, but the team employs title-contending drivers in this season’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide seasons.
Here’s a look at the team’s progress in 2013 and their hopes for another trophy:
• Drivers: Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler (part-time)
After 14 races, Kenseth has three wins, Busch has two and Hamlin has knocked on victory lane’s door when he’s been healthy. All three drivers have the speed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The only major question mark is Hamlin, who ranks 25th in points because he missed four races due to a back injury. He’ll need to rank in the top 20 after 26 races and have enough wins to qualify for one of two wild-card Chase berths.
Busch and Kenseth have enough wins for wild-card spots if necessary, so Hamlin’s road to the Chase won’t be easy. Kenseth ranks sixth in points and Busch is seventh. The top 10 drivers, plus the winningest two drivers ranked 11th-20th, make the Chase.
Sadler isn’t looking for a Chase spot. He drives the No. 81 Toyota on a limited basis to supplement his Nationwide efforts.
The biggest issue for Joe Gibbs Racing's Sprint Cup teams has been engine reliability. Both Kenseth and Busch have encountered engine issues at tracks where they’ve traditionally been dominant, resulting in poor finishes.
• Drivers: Elliott Sadler, Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth (part-time), Kyle Busch (part-time)
Sadler and Vickers are Nationwide regulars who are seeking championships. Neither driver has a win, but both have come close. Vickers finished second at Dover International Speedway on June 1. Sadler posted a third-place finish at Iowa Speedway a week later.
Busch isn’t racing for points, so his remarkable six wins in 10 starts are all the more impressive. Kenseth isn’t points racing either, but he has been a contender in several events.
Joe Gibbs Racing could win an owners’ points title with Busch’s No. 54, however. Busch is splitting the ride with Joey Coulter and Drew Herring, so the car is entered – and is a favorite – in every race.