The juggernaut that is Joe Gibbs Racing will begin the Round of 8 of NASCARs multi-layered postseason from a position of strength during a three-race stretch featuring a pivotal stop at Texas Motor Speedway.
Led by victory-starved Kyle Busch, JGR drivers occupy the top three positions among the eight championship contenders set to compete in Sundays First Data 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin winners of a combined 15 races this season theoretically could hold serve heading into the AAA Texas 500 weekend Oct. 31-Nov. 3 in Fort Worth.
The Round of 8 will conclude at ISM Raceway outside Phoenix on Nov. 10, with NASCARs Championship 4 to decide the 2019 title at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17.
Busch, the 2015 Cup champ, is mired in an uncharacteristic 18-race winless streak in his No. 18 Toyota Camry dating to Pocono Raceway in June. However, the four-time 2019 race-winner leads the standings by four points (4,046-4,042) over Truex, winner of six races in the No. 19 Camry during his first season at JGR. Hamlin, meanwhile, posted his fifth victory of 2019 in the No. 11 Toyota last Sunday at Kansas Speedway and is just nine points behind Rowdy Busch.
I wouldnt say were leading it as far as a favorite goes, but at least our points tell everybody that we are, said Busch, whose postseason includes three top-10 results basically negated by three finishes of 19th or worse. Certainly we havent had quite the results weve been looking for, but I think this playoff format allows for there to be some ups and downs given however your success was in the beginning of the season and being able to win races and stages.
Arguably, were third in line right now. Truex has won the most races at six and Dennys got five and weve got four. Its just a matter of being able to go out and do a job that will get you to Homestead and winning there.
Busch is the only driver among the eight contenders with multiple Cup wins at all three upcoming venues Martinsvilles half-mile, paperclip-shaped oval (two), TMS high-banked/1.5-mile oval (three) and ISM Raceways reconfigured 1-mile layout (three). Virginia native Hamlin is a five-time Cup winner at Martinsville and took the checkered flag at the OReilly Auto Parts 500 at TMS on March 31.
Truex has yet to win at either Martinsville or TMS, a puzzling fact not lost on the 2017 Cup champion.
Martinsville and Texas everybody looks at those two saying if we can win one of those two, get locked-in early, get to work on Homestead its a big advantage, Truex said. You get a week off, not have to worry about going to Phoenix to get in the Final 4.
For me, Texas has been a tough track from the standpoint weve led tons of laps, finished second, finished third, been right there so many times. It just always seems to slip away. Hopefully this year is different. Itd be a great time to win it.
Rounding out the contenders are reigning Cup champion Joey Logano in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang, 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Kyle Larson in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Camaro and Ryan Blaney in the No. 12 Team Penske Mustang.
TMS President Eddie Gossage is convinced that lineup will prevent the next three races from morphing into The JGR Invitational.
If thats the case, lets just give them the trophy, Gossage said. Look, the season has been all about JGR and thats great, but all that does is get you in the tournament. You still have to deliver. Youve got to pick it up, and the next week youve got to do better.
Thats whats so amazing about the Playoffs. Its almost nasty. The driver has got be really good every week plus the team has to be on top of its game and have the right strategy and good luck. That makes it compelling. I just love the NASCAR Playoffs a major league playoff right here in Dallas-Fort Worth.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series will resume its Round of 8 with the OReilly Auto Parts 300 at TMS on Saturday, Nov. 2.
John Sturbin is a senior writer at RacinToday.com, based in Fort Worth. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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