‘The most dangerous … 22nd point team in … sports’

DARLINGTON, SC – Denny Hamlin’s damaged car, packed with disappointment over another broken race, was loaded into Joe Gibbs Racing’s tug on Sunday night at Darlington Raceway when crew chief Chris Gabehart inspected the scene and 11th team status a third of the season. cup.

“I am convinced that we are the most dangerous … 22nd point team in the history of sports,” Gabehart told NBC Sports. “I am convinced that we are the most venomous snake lying in the grass. Every week we can jump in and turn this thing on our ear. We could have won last week. We could have won this week. ”

The race that went to Hamlin’s advantage took a turn when a slow stop in the pits brought him deep into the field and into the path of collision of several cars. Hamlin was left for the second consecutive 21st place after having one of the stronger cars.

“We are all frustrated,” Gabehart said. “God, it’s hard. I don’t know what you do other than go to the race next week. Again, the speed and ability of everyone on the team is not lacking. When it is, that’s what’s really hard to fix. It is a long march and harmony. “We’re not there, but, God, it’s frustrating to go through it from week to week for sure.”

Darlington marked the fifth consecutive race Hamlin finished 18th or worse. Apart from the victory in Richmond in early April, he did not score among the top 10 this season.

So how can a team that has less than the top 10 of 22 drivers this year be the one to watch? This is what this team does even in those races that end in poor results.

On Sunday, Hamlin had to start behind because the chassis was damaged in qualifying and needed repair. He was in the first 10 to 57 rounds, and he finished the first phase as the seventh.

The second phase showed the strength of the team. Hamlin was seventh when Gabehart threw him into the 134th lap ahead of many other cars. That helped Hamlin get two seats when the green flag cycle was over.

Caution in the 168th lap over an incident involving Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch brought the field to the pit road. Hamlin was fourth at the time. His crew brought him a place, moving him to third place. Hamlin finished the second phase fourth.

During the caution at the end of that stage, Hamlin’s crew was the first to pull him out of the pit road, allowing him to leave the back of the field at the start of the race to have control of the event. He led 42 of the next 51 laps.

NASCAR Cup series Goodyear 400
Denny Hamlin led 42 laps at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, but he saw his race change after a slow stop in boxing and then car damage in a collision after a restart. (Photo by James Gilbert / Getty Images)

Hamlin’s race unfolded under caution over the Alex Bowman incident. Hamlin was seventh because several cars in front just needed to go into the pit. He got out of the pit road outside the top 15 due to a slow stop. Gabehart said the tire changer did not reset the mounting gun to tighten the nut after removal to change the tire.

Stuck in the middle of the package, Hamlin’s car was damaged in a nine-car crash after a restart.

“As insanely frustrating as this is, I’m going to take this to the 12th run every week and I don’t know how to move on,” Gabehart said. “… To overcome adversity, start at the back of Darlington – a one-lane racetrack – and by strengthening race control at the start of Stage 3, I’ll be happy to take this. I will gladly take the car and the team that is able to go around the field in Dover in the way we were above 12 and look for (speed). ”

Another challenge remains for this team. Gabehart faces a suspension in four races for the wheel coming down from Hamlin’s car in Dover. Joe Gibbs Racing will appeal the penalty. Gabehart realizes there’s a good chance he won’t be on the track soon.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s hard,” he said. “Morality is important. Right now, as Denny says, we are waiting for the anvil to fall on our heads. That’s where we are. Again, the speech is simple, the message is simple. We have the ability to win every week from the boxing crew through the driver to the crew chief to the engineer to the mechanic, from top to bottom, we have the ability.

“This is no longer a points system, it is no longer a season defined by 36 races, it is not. It is defined as getting hot at the right time and dominating when it’s time to dominate, and this team has the ability to do that. That’s the message. The message is to try to win some more points in the playoffs and warm up when the time comes. We have the opportunity to do that. ”

Getting there will not be easy just because of all the problems that have plagued this team. Hamlin said he felt he had the best car in Las Vegas before he missed a shift and broke the drive, ending his race. He led 67 laps in Dover and won the first stage before his wheel fell off. He led 42 laps in Darlington and scored a record 11 points of the season before a slow stop in boxing and then a fall.

All the problems the car number 11 suffered with, Gabehart noted, affected the team.

“We are all so shy and snake-bitten now that in these cases you inevitably perform at your 90-95. percentile because psychologically you are waiting for what is next, ”he said. “When you break that barrier, I think you’ll really see top-notch ability, and I’m just waiting for this team to do that.”

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“We are in trend!”

Crew chief Brian Pattie smiled Sunday night after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished in eighth place, giving Stenhouse a consecutive top 10 for the first time since joining JTG Daugherty Racing in 2020.

“It’s nice to finally have a few breaks,” Pattie told NBC Sports. “I think we’re an engineering team, we’ve solved a few things we’ve been working on and it has turned out to be decent the last two weeks. We will just continue on this path.

“Obviously, the one-car team somehow puts you behind eight (with information gathering).”

After finishing second in Dover last week, Stenhouse said the team was “trying to come up with a new philosophy” for some of the songs.

Pattie explained the change.

“Some of it was the approach,” he said. “Cars are so different, so much work needs to be done on them, aero and mechanical too, that we had to – ‘Stand back and make it simpler, don’t be fooled’ – and run better.”

NASCAR Cup series Goodyear 400
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. followed second-placed in Dover with a score of eighth in Darlington, for the first time since 2018 that he scored the top 10 in a row in the Cup. (Photo by James Gilbert / Getty Images)

Pattie said the team worked on the car all night. Car number 47 benefited from boxing strategy. Pattie invited Stenhouse to the pit in lap 229, making him among the first in the bot. Stenhouse was 14th before the outbreak. He was fifth when the green flag cycle ended.

Caution in lap 256 allowed Stenhouse to get away with the field for the last stop of the race. He finished eighth behind winner Joey Logan.

The one-stop strategy (in the last phase) was probably the fastest on paper, but our car fell so badly after 32, 34 laps, we just made the decision to stop it in two places exactly on our numbers and see what happens ”Pattie said of the team’s development strategy.

“Luckily, the warning fell whenever it was needed and it was the top five and that was the luck you get.”

That’s what the team needed.

“Finally something is going your way,” Pattie said.

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The day before the end of the third season of the best season at Darlington Raceway, Justin Haley highlighted the progress his Kaulig Racing team has made this season.

“You just have to take the good weeks and maximize those, and take the bad weeks and learn from them,” he said.

NASCAR Cup series Goodyear 400
Justin Haley scored four consecutive places in the top 15. (Photo by James Gilbert / Getty Images)

Kaulig Racing and Haley did it. Haley scored four consecutive results among the top 15, finishing 14th on the field in Bristol, 12th in Talladega, 11th in Dover and third in Darlington.

Haley’s goal on Sunday was his best in the Cup since his 2019 Daytona victory. Sunday’s result was the best for Kauliga in the Cup since AJ Allmendinger’s win on the Indy road track.

“The last three weeks have meant a lot,” Chris Rice, president of Kaulig Racing, told NBC Sports. “… Kaulig Racing simply means a lot to come and fight.”

Haley benefited from boxing strategy, but when he was in position, he took advantage and scored in the top five.

“I don’t think we had a third-place car, but we’re an organization that can have a good strategic day and be ahead,” Haley said after the race.

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