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Breaking up the Gibbs’ boys in Clash result of ‘perfect storm’

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Those who tuned in late to Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash may have been confused.

For awhile, it looked like a replay of last year’s Daytona 500, as Joe Gibbs Racing’s four Toyota’s paraded around Daytona International Speedway with a field of cars stacked up behind them.

Denny Hamlin once again set the benchmark, leading 48 laps (95 in last year’s Daytona 500) while his teammates Daniel Suarez, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch were snug tight behind him.

“The Gibbs team is really the only team that, to me, is always together at speedway events,” Jamie McMurray said Wednesday at Daytona 500 media day. “You look up and they’re always lined up. That doesn’t have as much to do with the team as it does with the drivers all working well together. You don’t see any other organization do that. So, that’s an advantage for them at plate tracks.”

While the JGR fortress was nearly impenetrable in last year’s Daytona 500 – JGR related teams led 156 of 200 laps – the opposition put up a successful fight in Sunday’s exhibition race.

In the closing laps, the two Team Penske cars of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano chiseled away at the four cars, side drafting each JGR entry until Hamlin was left to fend for himself with one lap to go. That resulted in Hamlin’s late block and contact with Keselowski in Turn 2, which allowed Logano to slip by and win.

Both JGR drivers and their competitors say that the team’s restrictor-plate strategy is harder than it looks.

“Game plans don’t necessarily all work out,” Kenseth said. “You’ve got to have strong cars to do it. The car has to end up there, not be separated by bad pit stops or strategy, what have you. It’s hard to say. … I thought we had it lined up really good in the Clash. We had all four of us in a row for a while. We just weren’t quite fast enough.”

Logano said it was the result of the “perfect storm” while Hamlin described it as his team being “almost selfless to a fault.”

“It took us the whole race to figure out how to do it and we almost ran out of time,” Logano said. “No, it wasn’t easy. The side draft is huge like it’s always been. Brad is probably the best at doing that leapfrog or what he calls the island hop, whatever you want to call it, and we were able to pull them apart and get in a hole and pull another one apart and get in the hole.”

Busch was the only other JGR car to lead Sunday (four laps) while Hamlin led all but four in the final 50-lap segment. The other four laps were led by Logano, who has won four restrictor-plate events dating back to his 2015 Daytona 500 event. Keselowski has chipped in another three for Team Penske since the fall 2014 Talladega race.

“The game has changed a lot and to be honest, I think the Gibbs cars have changed the game more than anything,” Logano said. “Like I said on Sunday, how selfless they are. They’re able to say, ‘Hey, you’re the guy in the lead and all four of us are gonna line up and we’re not gonna throw blocks, we’re not gonna try to pass you, we’re gonna stay in a straight line’ and it makes them really hard to pass. The only way you pass them is you’ve got to have a team that’s stronger that’s able to pick them apart one at a time and that’s what we were able to do.”

While the combined effort of Keselowski and Logano won the race after leading only 22 laps, Kenseth admits JGR’s four cars had nothing for the Penske cars.

“The 2 and 22 were fast,” Kenseth said. “They could pull the back car off the line all the time. The three of us couldn’t really get away. If it was going to work, I think it would have worked in the Clash better because the group is so much smaller.”

Only 17 cars were in the 75-lap race compared to 40 that will be in the Daytona 500. The lineup for Sunday’s race won’t be settled until Thursday night’s Can-Am Duel. Only then can teams begin making plans to try to duplicate what JGR accomplished last year or a way to break such a monopoly up.

“I think if it happens again, we have an alternate plan,” Hamlin said. “The same ideas are not going to continue to work over and over. You have to come up with something new, something to keep them off guard. Not just Penske, but there are going to be many other contenders in the mix of it that are not just going to allow us to go out there and lead all the laps. We’ve got to be ready for it.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends Kyle Busch’s surly mood after the Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. – A second-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 left Kyle Busch in an irate mood, which is perfectly fine, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A seemingly agitated Busch, cupping his face in his hands after sitting down, entered the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway Center shortly after 12:30 a.m. Sunday. It was roughly 10 minutes after Austin Dillon scored the first victory of his career in NASCAR’s premier series by stretching his final tank of fuel for 70 laps.

Was Busch surprised that Dillon made the checkered flag? What did it mean for a driver to get his first win?

“I’m not surprised about anything,” Busch snapped. “Congratulations.”

He dropped the mic on the dais. There were no further questions.

Shortly afterward on Twitter, Earnhardt took up for his peer (whom he replaced at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008).

Busch, who hasn’t won since last July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (a span of 28 races) gave more elaborate answers shortly after exiting his No. 18 Toyota, which finished 0.835 seconds behind Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet.

He apparently didn’t realize until late in the race that his pass of Martin Truex Jr. (who led a race-high 233 laps) with a lap remaining was for second instead of the victory.

“This M&M’s Camry was awesome tonight,” Busch said. “It was just super fast. I mean we had one of the fastest cars all night long and then (Truex) was probably the fastest. There at the end, somehow we ran him down. You know he got a straightaway out on us, but there that last 100 laps we were able to get back to him and pass him so you know that was promising for us there at the end in order to get a second-place finish, but man just so, so disappointed.

“I don’t know. We ran our own race. We did what we needed to do and it wasn’t – it wasn’t the right game. We come up short and finish second.

“It’s a frustrating night, man. There’s nothing we could’ve done different.”

Another Cup driver took a different view of Busch’s tirade.

Martin Truex Jr. takes Cup points lead after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. took over the Cup points lead with a third-place finish in Saturday’s Coca-Cola 600.

The Furniture Row Racing driver, who led a race-high 233 laps, also extended his lead in the playoff standings by winning the second stage and bringing his total to 16 points.

Kyle Larson, who had led the standings for eight consecutive races since Phoenix International Raceway, fell to second in the rankings after crashing and finishing a season-worst 33rd. Larson trails Truex by five points in the race for the regular-season championship (and 15 playoff points).

Click here for the points standings after Charlotte.

Results, stats for the 58th annual Coca-Cola 600

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With a fuel gamble, Austin Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 for his first NASCAR Cup win.

It comes in his 133rd start and is the second win for Richard Childress Racing this year.

Following him was Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

Click here for the full results.

Austin Dillon returns No. 3 to victory lane for first time since Dale Earnhardt’s last win

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CONCORD, N.C. – Austin Dillon scored his first Cup victory in his first start with a new crew chief, bringing an iconic number back to victory lane in NASCAR’s premier series.

Stretching his last tank of fuel 70 laps, the Richard Childress Racing driver won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I can’t believe it,” Dillon told Fox Sports. “I was just really focused on those last laps.”

It was the first victory on the circuit for the No. 3 Chevrolet since the late Dale Earnhardt’s win at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2000. Richard Childress Racing mothballed the number after Earnhardt’s death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 but brought it back with Dillon in 2014.

Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, was making his debut with crew chief Justin Alexander, who replaced Slugger Labbe last week.

Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

Jimmie Johnson was leading before running out of fuel with three laps remaining, handing the lead to Dillon.

“I was just trying to be patient with (Johnson),” Dillon said. “I could see him saving (fuel). I thought I’d saved enough early where I could attack at the end, but I tried to wait as long as possible. And when he ran out, I figured I’d go back in and save where I was lifting, and it worked out.

“I ran out at the line and it gurgled all around just to do one little spin and push it back to victory lane.”

With the victory, Dillon qualified for the playoffs, joining RCR teammate Ryan Newman (who clinched a berth by winning at Phoenix International Raceway).

Dillon becomes the 10th driver to score his first Cup win at Charlotte, joining David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Charlie Glotzbach, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and David Reutimann.

Who had a good race: Kyle Busch charged to second in the closing laps, following up a win last week at the All-Star Race. … Truex dominated Charlotte for the third straight year, leading a race-high 233 laps. … Joe Gibbs Racing placed three drivers in the top five, and rookie Daniel Suarez was 11th. … Rookie Erik Jones finished seventh, giving Furniture Row Racing two top 10s in a race for the first time.

Who had a bad race: It was over for Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski on Lap 20 when they were collected in a bizarre wreck as a result of a chain reaction from Jeffrey Earnhardt’s engine failure. …  Points leader Kyle Larson finished a season-worst 32nd after a crash. … Danica Patrick hit the wall twice (at least once because of a tire problem) and placed 25th.

Quote of the race: “My fiancée wrote in the car, ‘When you keep God in the first place, he will take you places you never imagined.’ And, I never imagined to be here.” – Dillon after scoring his first Cup victory.

What’s next: 1 p.m., June 4 at Dover International Speedway on FS1.