Entering into the weekend at Dover it seemed that the four cars belonging to Joe Gibbs Racing would be the ones to beat. As it turned out, Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks was utter disaster. It started out very well for the teams. Friday Denny Hamlin won the pole, his third at Dover, with a lap of 160.121 nearly one mile per hour faster than the second place starter.
The rest of the teams had good qualifying efforts as well. Matt Kenseth started fourth, Carl Edwards eighth and Kyle Busch tenth. Hamlin led the practice sessions on Saturday and many in the NASCAR garage tabbed Hamlin to score his first Dover victory.
Sunday that prediction seemed to be coming true. Hamlin took the lead from pole and went on to lead the second most laps of the race, 188 of the 400. While Hamlin was in charge however his teammates began to suffer issues. The trouble started for Edwards. On lap 164 during the races second caution Edwards who was leading under yellow at the time, pitted and left with a wrench in the back window. A crewmember made a valiant effort to retrieve it taking a fall in the process, but the tube that guides the wrench was jutting out and he was forced back in for repairs. He was nailed for speeding on pit road by NASCAR, and restarted deep in the field. He was never able to rally back and finished 19th, three laps down.
“We had a couple problems on pit lane, but the biggest problem was my speeding,” Edwards said. “I didn’t realize I couldn’t speed in that segment so I was being a little aggressive and that cost us. I just feel bad for all of my teammates. I did not want to finish 19th today. I thought we had a top-three car, so just frustrating. But, once we got back there man it’s very hard to get track position.”
Kenseth also saw his hopes for a win end in disappointment. He ran inside the top five for much of the early part of the race, but started to drop back near lap 300. On lap 309 he was forced to take his Toyota to the garage.
“Not really sure,” was all Kenseth, who was scored with a DNF in 39th place, could say. “We broke something in the suspension and I’m not really sure what.”
The biggest scare of the race came later in the going. Kyle Busch in just his second race back after injuries suffered at Daytona during the Xfinity race in February, was holding his own inside the top ten. It looked as though he would be in contention for a top ten or possibly a top five finish. It all ended on lap 375, just 25 laps from the end. Busch and Brian Scott got together entering turn 3, moments after Busch reported possible issues with his suspension. He crashed into the outside wall and came to rest at the exit of turn 4. Busch climbed from his car unaided and was uninjured but his day was done; he was scored in 36th.
“I guess Brian (Scott) said his spotter didn’t say anything and he just chopped the corner and I was under him already and it just sucked me around,” Busch said. “I hate it. I hate it for my guys. Man, we had a really good run going obviously — we ran in the top-five all day long. This is a shame. This isn’t what we need, and we weren’t going to win today but it doesn’t help when you finish 40th.”
It was left to Hamlin to carry the team colors. He had been struggling somewhat late in the going, but in the closing laps was inside the top 10 and looked to be working his way forward. With 15 laps to go, however Hamlin and Clint Bowyer got together sending Hamlin into the backstretch wall and bringing out caution number six. Hamlin suffered heavy damage, but was able to continue to the finish. He came home 21st three laps down.
“Well we were on those new tires and I thought we were going to really make some hay and we got clear of the 15 (Clint Bowyer) and we were – I thought we were going to make a run at it,” Hamlin said. “We never even got a corner through before we got turned around. Disappointed, but we really didn’t have a winning car there at the end of the race.”
At the end of the day Edwards was able to sum it all up. Edwards scored his first victory for JGR just a week prior and Sunday tried to look for the positives.
“I just feel bad for all of my teammates,” Edwards said. “They were running really well and we all had bad luck. Overall, the JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars were very fast this weekend and I still believe we’re on a big upward swing with our Toyotas.”