Five months into the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tour, the top teams have begun to make their presence known.
Stewart-Haas Racing has proven to be incredibly consistent and strong. Hendrick Motorsports, while off, has shown bursts of speed at times with its best teams. Furniture Row Racing has proven to be the little team that could once again, making the switch from Chevrolet to Toyota with ease and dominating NASCAR’s longest race.
However, while all of the top teams have shown potential, two organizations have stood above the pack thus far: Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske.
12 of the 18 races to start 2016 have gone to either JGR or Penske, with all six drivers from the two groups earning a victory to join the Chase grid. The teams also make up six of the top 11 positions in points, with a combined 39 top 5s and 60 top 10s.
With those stats, its clear that Penske and Gibbs are a step above the rest with the Chase looming. However, which organization is currently the best of the two?
Have You Seen A Toyota Lately? Chances Are It’s In Sprint Cup Victory Lane.
Summertime has not been kind to Joe Gibbs Racing. The four-car organization has gone six races without winning, easily a season high; the last time a JGR chassis visited Victory Lane was Memorial Day Weekend at Charlotte (Martin Truex, Jr. with affiliate Furniture Row Racing). Team Penske has won three of the last five races and seized momentum while Stewart-Haas Racing boasts two drivers, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, who sit first and third in points, respectively. JGR, by comparison, has just one driver (Carl Edwards, fourth) planted inside the top 5. Is their spot as heavyweight title favorite in jeopardy?
Of course not. Don’t be fooled.
During the first 18 races, top-to-bottom, JGR has been the most complete organization in Sprint Cup. They’ve qualified each of their four drivers for the Chase, winning everywhere from the season-opening Super Bowl (Daytona 500) to the winding short tracks of Bristol and Richmond. Overall, they’ve captured seven races and led 1,984 laps. Truex, not included in those totals, has spent a series-high 866 laps in front, easily a career best while adding that Coca-Cola 600 victory to the mix.
Those are formidable numbers for a group that also boasts the title of reigning champion. It was Kyle Busch who took home the hardware last year, putting on a masterful performance despite missing the first 11 races due to injury. Matt Kenseth would have almost certainly joined him inside the 2015 Final Four if not for an unfortunate incident at Kansas involving one Joey Logano. Together, they won 10 races and peaked against the competition when it counted.
There’s no reason to think both men, already assured of their spot in the postseason field, can’t replicate that performance. Add in the consistency of Edwards, tied for third in Cup with 12 top-10 finishes, along with Hamlin, this year’s Daytona 500 winner, and it’s hard to find a weakness across the board. The four drivers combine for two championships, over 100 Cup wins and multiple Final Four appearances in just two years of the current Chase format. It’s a group well seasoned on how to make it to Homestead and has all the tools at their disposal to get there.
Have we gone this far without talking NASCAR XFINITY? Oh, that’s right, no one’s caring much about that series lately because of how much JGR has made a mockery of the field. They own 10 wins in 16 races, a whopping 13 poles and arguably the two best prospects in Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones. JGR chassis are so unstoppable there Sam Hornish, Jr. went from substitute teaching a week before Iowa to jumping in a car, then winning the race going away.
So let Penske huff and puff all it wants. It’s summertime and both drivers should know that the real separation among contenders comes when the Chase starts this fall. That duo hasn’t won a championship yet under this format. JGR has.
They’re still the favorites to do so again. – Tom Bowles
Have You Been Watching the Last Few Weeks? It’s Obviously Team Penske.
Joe Gibbs Racing may have lit the Sprint Cup Series ablaze to start the season, but as the weeks go on it’s Team Penske that’s established themselves as the series’ top organization. It’s not that they show the most speed every week – Gibbs or Stewart Haas might have the edge in that department – but regardless of circumstance Penske continues to find a way to victory lane.
Keselowski has been dominant at restrictor plate tracks, leading 46.13 percent of the last two races at Talladega and Daytona. The 2012 champion has also proven he can win races determined by both fuel mileage (Kentucky) and outright speed (Las Vegas).
Bad Brad doesn’t always have the best car, but he and Paul Wolfe have been manufacturing the kind of magic that won them the 2012 title, and that only bodes well for Penske moving forward.
As for the other half of Team Penske, Joey Logano hasn’t quite been the same Sliced Bread that won 11 races in 2014 & 2015, but he’s been inching closer to form in recent weeks. Logano was riding five-straight top 10s before his rough outing in Kentucky, including four top 5s and a victory at Michigan. That level of speed and consistency is bound to lead to more trips to Victory Lane as the year goes on.
As for JGR, its stats still stand above the field overall, but racing is no longer about the full season. What have they done lately?
Lose to Team Penske, mostly.
Penske’s won three of the last four races, skyrocketing Keselowski and Logano up to second and fifth in series points, respectively. As for Gibbs? They haven’t made their way to Victory Lane since Matt Kenseth got the winless monkey off his back in Dover.
Because of that, if I had to pick an organization to take the championship right now, it would be Penske and Ford – not JGR and Toyota – that I’d choose to come out on top. – Aaron Bearden