The Frontstretch: It Wasn't Even Close: Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Organization Routed at Homestead by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday November 22, 2010

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What goes around comes around. One reaps what they sow. An elephant (or Jimmy Spencer) never forgets. Racers have long memories. Whatever cliché one may want to apply, what was supposed to be a watershed moment for the Joe Gibbs Racing organization this Sunday in south Florida became comeuppance of the nastiest kind. Instead of leaving Cup champions, the JGR stable finds itself returning to North Carolina for a long offseason with no trophies of any kind, two wrecked race cars, and a roster of drivers in borderline shock.

Sunday didn’t see Joe Gibbs Racing get beat. They got owned. And they have no one to thank but themselves for watching the entire 2010 season explode in their faces at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Denny Hamlin and Mike Ford went to Homestead confident that the title was theirs. They left with a second-place finish, the result of a comedy of errors that left no one to blame but themselves in what’s bound to be a long offseason for the Joe Gibbs Racing camp.

Coming into the weekend, the stage was set for Denny Hamlin to do what he had been favored to do since this race one year ago; dethrone Jimmie Johnson as Sprint Cup Champion. With a convincing win at Martinsville that saw Hamlin score a coup on his home track, a track where Johnson typically dominated but on this weekend faded away at the finish, his team got the scent of blood in the water. Two weeks later at Texas, that scent became a feeding frenzy; the No. 11 team stormed to victory, and the points lead, while the No. 48 team floundered, fading in the race’s second half and benching their pit crew in favor of Jeff Gordon’s. Coming into Sunday’s season finale, they sat somewhere nobody had since 2005… ahead of Jimmie Johnson with the title on the line.

One day later, one look at the headlines this morning says it all. This title didn’t materialize as planned.

And it wasn’t just bad racing luck on Sunday that bit the No. 11 team. Sure, Denny Hamlin did get in over his head in making contact with Greg Biffle on lap 24. Sure, Jimmie Johnson’s car underwent Chad Knaus’ magic wand en route to coming on late and scoring a runner-up finish. But Sunday was bigger than that. It was instead an entire racing organization finally, for lack of a better expression, getting what they had coming. The facts are this; Joe Gibbs Racing dug its own grave in cultivating the circumstances that cost Hamlin a title shot, and derailed any semblance of momentum the Nos. 11, 18, and 20 teams had headed into the offseason.

Joey Logano should know better than to mess with one of the circuit’s most aggressive drivers in Juan Pablo Montoya. Wrecking the No. 42 in retaliation for an earlier incident on the track, their squabble incensed Montoya co-owner Felix Sabates so much he nearly wrecked the No. 11 on the racetrack.

In case readers were watching ESPN without the benefit of an MRN broadcast, let’s clarify something that the network foolishly omitted from their coverage. Joey Logano finished 39th as a result of crash damage incurred in a lap 140 wreck with Juan Pablo Montoya. While this incident was televised, what happened next wasn’t. Logano, under yellow, retaliated against Montoya, sending the No. 42 car to the garage as well. Montoya, irate over the episode, reportedly attempted to confront Logano in his garage stall but was stopped short by NASCAR officials. Joe Gibbs Racing further tweeted that No. 42 car owner Felix Sabates threatened to have the No. 11 car wrecked if Logano didn’t apologize to Montoya.

Nothing came of the warning; Montoya returned to the race late and never posed a threat to Hamlin’s Toyota. But the damage was done. Logano, in what has been a recurring theme in his second season in Cup, was bowled over once again, just as with Kevin Harvick at Bristol in the spring. And rather than confronting Montoya, rather than taking the previous episode to heart, Logano pulled about the sorriest retaliation tool he could out. He returned to the track with a wounded machine and waited for a caution to strike back.

This wasn’t like Clint Bowyer charging from pit road in the spring Nationwide Series race to tag Denny Hamlin in a heat-of-the-moment action. This was calculated… calculated cowardice. And all Logano accomplished was to anger one of the most temperamental drivers in NASCAR. Heading into year three, there’s little room for doubt that he’ll continue to get pushed around on the sport’s biggest stage. Not to mention that the wreck midway through Sunday’s race derailed any chance for the team to win a consolation “best of the rest” prize for a 13th-place points finish.

Then there’s Kyle Busch, who fell victim (the term is used very loosely) to the most blatant takeout move the Cup Series has seen in recent memory, when Kevin Harvick dumped him on the frontstretch with less than 25 laps to go.

Good luck finding anyone not clad in M&M’s or JGR gear to argue that Busch didn’t have this one coming for a long time. Kevin Harvick remarked post-race that he tagged Busch for “racing like a clown” throughout Sunday’s 400-miler, but who can also forget that since Dover, Richard Childress Racing may well have been at war with JGR? After all, it was none other than Busch’s teammate Hamlin that threw the legitimacy of a six-time title-winning organization under the bus in the Chase’s second race, playing up Clint Bowyer’s penalty like RCR has been cheating for months. And it was Busch himself, NASCAR’s trashiest talker, who brashly proclaimed in the days leading up to Homestead that he would do absolutely anything he could to help the No. 11 team win the Cup.

JGR fired the first salvos of this volley; Busch made no secret that he intended to be an obstacle for both Harvick and Jimmie Johnson, a role he played to the hilt all day in making himself a roving obstacle instead of a potentially race-winning car. So Harvick, as he unabashedly told Hamlin in post-race remarks, “parked his teammate.” Happy took NASCAR’s bad boy to the woodshed and set fire to his car for good measure. That moment wasn’t an example of a battle won; it was pure ownership.

Instead of going for the sweep at Homestead – he won the Truck and Nationwide races earlier in the weekend – Kyle Busch was swept away by the notion that he should serve as Denny Hamlin’s blocker all race long. It’s a strategy Kevin Harvick didn’t appreciate – and by the end of the race, everyone knew about it the second Busch’s car was turned into a fireball of a mess down the frontstretch.

And while a debate raged in the media center as to whether Harvick knew that wrecking Busch would also trap fellow title contender Hamlin one lap down, his intentions did not matter. In one fell swoop, with Harvick ending Busch’s season, he ended Hamlin’s as well; the resulting yellow flag caught the No. 11 off the lead lap after a cycle of green flag pit stops, and all but sealed the deal for Jimmie Johnson late in the race. RCR got the better of JGR courtesy of Harvick’s front bumper.

Kyle Busch being a clown or not, Hamlin bears an awful lot of responsibility for cultivating the ire that led Harvick to wreck his teammate. It was said even before the green flag dropped at Dover a few months back that declaring war on RCR the way Hamlin did may well prove to be a gaffe big enough to derail his team’s shot a title. And while it could be argued that the Cup was lost even before Harvick trapped him, the timing of that yellow forced the No. 11 team to take a wave-around, ending any chance they had coming in to make one more adjustment, to take one final swing at somehow catching the No. 48 car.

Further, Hamlin’s mouth wasn’t the only one responsible for awakening sleeping giants in their competitors. No. 11 crew chief Mike Ford was uncharacteristically bold in his post-race remarks following Hamlin’s win at Texas two weeks ago, asserting that he believed his driver and race team were flat out better than the four-time champs.

The No. 11 pit crew may have been faster over the last two races. But after Texas, after a race that saw Knaus both bench his crew and miss the mark on late-race adjustments that saw Johnson scarcely able to score a top-10 finish, the “evil genius” atop the No. 48 box was suddenly back on his “A” game. Johnson was a top-5 fixture all race long at Phoenix, and was coached well enough during the final green flag run to ensure saving enough fuel to finish. One week later, his performance at Homestead spoke for itself. Johnson never lost his cool despite three consecutive slow pit stops to start the event, nor did the crew chief react in a knee-jerk manner to bring the old No. 48 crew back over even after Jeff Gordon’s motor expired. But most importantly, when the race came down to it, the car had another gear in it when it was time to go. Instead of a dismal performance enacted at Martinsville or Texas, Johnson surged forward late in the going, running away from both Harvick and Hamlin en route to a fifth consecutive title.

It’s hardly a coincidence that Chad Knaus was seen holding a note card on pit road that said “our team won” for the TV cameras. And it’s hardly a coincidence that Knaus remarked during the championship presser afterwards that his entire team buckled down to get title number five. The team, the shop, the number that Knaus has built into a racing dynasty was flat called out two weeks ago. And, like awakening a sleeping giant, it rose up to smite its enemy.

If the visual aid of Johnson and Knaus’ above average emotion – they acted like they won title number one, not five – doesn’t convince anyone, Knaus confirmed to all the media that Ford’s remarks didn’t please him. And he left no doubt of his opinion when he stated, “I think our team is better than what they have at Gibbs.” Period.

Frankly, in terms of on-track performance, the No. 11 team had everything they needed to topple the No. 48. They won more races over the course of 2010. They took the trophy at Martinsville for the third consecutive time at a track that Johnson is accustomed to making a personal playground.

Where the No. 11 team messed up was in getting away from what worked for them in the regular season. They got away from simply winning races, and they did that by trying to play head games with a team that’s long ago mastered the art. Just as calling out RCR was a huge mistake, calling out Chad Knaus is and was equally foolish. Trying to play head games when Kevin Harvick was among the competition was foolish. And trying to play head games when the team’s driver has proven anything but level-headed in the face of adversity was especially foolish. It was very clear at Phoenix, when the team pitted a race-winning car to fuel up and finish a safe 12th instead of a convincing podium result, that playing defense wasn’t a role the No. 11 squad was fully ready or able to embrace.

And “Sliced Bread?” His upward momentum was sliced to pieces, reduced to antics that one would expect of a youngster rather than a racing prodigy. Kyle Busch got karmic retribution, while Hamlin and Co. tried to play head games with the best in the business. They lost.

So Chad Knaus was absolutely right; Hendrick Motorsports and their team is better than what’s been assembled at Gibbs. For while the No. 48 team won a championship on Sunday in south Florida, Joe Gibbs Racing, if it’s even possible, lost a lot more.

And they have no one to thank for that but themselves.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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phil h
11/22/2010 01:55 AM

“In case readers were watching ESPN without the benefit of an MRN broadcast, let’s clarify something that the network foolishly omitted from their broadcast”.

I didn’t know this happened at all,but I was watching ESPN

ever heard of Carl Edwards and his coming back in the race to take out Brad K at Atlanta! What Logano did was nothing new.These drivers of today,thats all they do is retaliate with 3500 lb cars.They should be men,and beat the sh** out of one another!At the very least,wail at one another like Jeff vs. Jeff at Texas!

Stephen HOOD
11/22/2010 07:38 AM

I think the Gibbs group got what it had coming. Busch’s burning car was an apropos image for the end of the JGR season. My problem with the JGR drivers is their sense of entitlement coupled with a strange mix of competitive Christianism. I use the word Christianism because it seems to me the faith coming out of the JGR shop doesn’t quite fit with the teachings of Jesus. They use Jesus language but their actions speak louder than their words. I personally find the JGR group insufferable.

11/22/2010 08:27 AM

Race fans should have tuned into Junior’s radio. He actually gave a rather long play by play of the whole Logano/Montoya incident as it was happening.

As for Kyle…he nearly wrecked the 48 on pit road and was using the 29 as a pinball machine. Kyle was all talk…Harvick was all action. In my book the Harvick move was the best move of the race. Kyle has had that coming for a long time. He can dish it out but he can’t take it.

11/22/2010 10:26 AM

How pathetic, Harvick all but admits that HE WRECKED KYLE, and people still blame the 18 for the wreck. Busch almost did hit Johnson on pit road, almost. But that is something that happens at every race. He didnt wait in his pit stall for Johnson to drive by. He left when his crew was done. This Busch derangement is so stupid. GET OVER IT!

ray contreras
11/22/2010 11:15 AM

Wow, where should i start about the #48. First and formost, they are the bigger cheater in Nascar. Since 04, up to now, they have always finish in the top 10 in almost every race, while #24, #5 and now the #88 run like shit. Dale jr’s car was running something like 30th place and #24 like 15th or 20th. Jeff and Dale have not come close to winning anything this year. While the 48 is always up front, top 10. In a year, when the #2, #14, and even #99 ran a few good races, the #48 was up front racing for the win. Even the great lke Dale Sr, Darrell, Petty, and other had good seasons, this car hasn’t had a BAD season, not even once. In closing, rememver when Jimmie crash at Waklin Glen, came out the car with his hands up in the air, and since they wow, 5 straight give me a break, nobody that good, compared to Stewart, Jeff, and others no way.

11/22/2010 11:24 AM

Bryan, since you are such a JJ fan, why don’t you just revel in the fact that he won and not rub salt into the wounds of the drivers who didn’t.

Carl D.
11/22/2010 11:39 AM

I distinctly remember Kyle Busch, post-race at the August Nationwide race in Bristol, admiting that he purposely dumped Brad Keselowski. You gotta love Karma!

It’s interesting to watch “sliced bread” sour his reputation by trying to out-busch Kyle. Remember when Joe Gibbs hired classy drivers like Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett?

I’ll say it here… Denny Hamlin will never win a Cup title. He just can’t handle the pressure. I haven’t seen a guy so consistently choke when the title was on the line since Greg Norman in the 1980’s Masters tournaments.

11/22/2010 12:12 PM

I agree!! Harvick made the move of the race..“don’t dish it out if you can’t take it” You go Harvick!!

11/22/2010 12:49 PM

Harvick will be looking over his shoulder every time Kyle is behind him next year, wondering if it is pay back time. It will be very interesting.

11/22/2010 01:06 PM

Wow, Frontstretch has gone from Busch Bashing to the entire JGR team. Lets see, Joey came in 30 something, Kyle came in 30 something and Denny lost the championship. You would think that would be a bad enough end to anyone’s season, but NO, Frontstretch felt that the should go ahead and pile on. As for the comments about Joey intentionally going out after Montoya, aren’t you hypocrites the same folks that thought Reutimann going back on track to exact his revenge on Busch at Kansas was the greatest thing ever. It’s sad to think I continually read this garbage hoping to find insight or relevance.

11/22/2010 02:00 PM

Gibbs has fast cars but mentally defective drivers.

11/22/2010 02:23 PM

Harvick could have won the race, led the most laps and still not won the Chase. Johnson needed to finish further down in the field. Harvick did all he could in spite of the penalty and Busch dogging him throughout the race. Hamlin and company talked some big trash but choked huge. Johnson played it safe and it paid off. Not a fan of JJ either.

I couldn’t help but smile when Kyle tries a slide job and ends up spinning out of control. Kyle had it coming. For all his talent, he’s left too many IOU’s out there and Harvick collected…….

11/22/2010 04:03 PM

Thanks for the full story on the Logano/Montoya deal. Love my 48 Team and am always proud to be a fan and will say this one was sweeter yet because of Mike Ford’s comments. It’s usually best to wait for the glory until you’ve actually won the war rather than just one battle.
The 11 and 29 had great seasons and they should be proud of that. Jimmie & Chad both said after they won ’06 that they felt they had to lose the Championships in ’04 & ’05 to learn how to win one. Same may well be true for the 11 and 29 teams if they take this experience and learn and build a stronger team from it.

11/22/2010 05:21 PM

Rob, I couldn’t have said it any better. What a bunch of JGR haters.

Two Face
11/22/2010 06:36 PM

The only clown in yesterday’s race is the hack behind the wheel of the 29. He’s been a clown since the 1st time he drove the 29 car. Will never be the champion because he is not championship material. Jimmmy and Denny have this guy beat in personality and carisma by leaps and bounds. Alway was, is , and will be hot headed punk as long as he stays in Nascar. Why Childress didn’t unload the crybaby last year when he had the chance is still questionable. Oh well KARMA will eventually come knocking in 2011. Luck he will have lots of free budweiser to drown in his sorrows.

11/22/2010 07:53 PM

Yea, Karma is a bitch. Can’t believe you all sticking up for Kyle; he’s had that coming for a LONG time. Doubt Harvick will be looking over his shoulder next year. Heard Jerry Punch today say he was listening to Harvick’s radio and Kyle was screwing with him the whole race and he obviously had had enough. And I agree with the “sense of entitlement” the JGR guys act like they have. For Joe Gibbs to be such a Christian man, he has a lot of jerks driving for him. Joey is still young but Denny has acted that way for a long time and shouldn’t have called out anyone until he took a good hard look at himself and his teammates.

11/22/2010 10:57 PM

Carl D.
“Remember when Joe Gibbs hired classy drivers like Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett?”
So true, it’s sad.