Hendrick solves performance issues, but Joe Gibbs Racing still puzzled

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With Jimmie Johnson winning and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing fifth in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the naysayers finally can stop asking “what’s wrong with Hendrick Motorsports?”

But those same naysayers can continue asking “what’s wrong with Joe Gibbs Racing?”

Sunday marked the second time this season that JGR has failed to have even one of its NASCAR Cup drivers finish in the top 10 (the other time was the Daytona 500).

Kyle Busch was the highest Texas finisher for the Gibbs camp at 15th place. Matt Kenseth was 16th, Daniel Suarez was 19th and Denny Hamlin was 25th.

That’s very uncharacteristic for a team that has six wins, 24 top-fives and 42 top-10s in 96 overall starts at the 1.5-mile speedway.

In addition to not having any wins in 2017, JGR has just one stage win. This, in comparison to 2016, when it had at least one top-10 in all 36 races.

Also in 2016, JGR won three of the first seven races, and seven of the first 12, en route to 12 total wins for the entire season.

Even team owner Joe Gibbs is mystified at what’s happened to his four-team NASCAR Cup operation.

“We just have a lot of issues,” Gibbs told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “This was as tough a day as we’ve had. I think Kyle [Busch] felt he had a chance early, and then we adjusted a little bit, and it went away.

“Denny was off. I think our other two cars were, too. So, what it really says is we’re off. We got a lot of work to do.”

Gibbs did not point to the recent repave at TMS as one of the reasons why his team struggled Sunday, he said to the Star-Telegram.

“It’s the same for everybody,” he said. “It was a real test of nobody having any information going in. It was who could handle it the best. Obviously, we didn’t.”

But what isn’t the same for everybody is how far and how quickly JGR has fallen. In 2015 and 2016, the organization led all of its peers with 26 combined wins. No other rival organization had more than 14 wins during the same period.

In 2014, JGR managed just two wins in the entire season, one apiece by Busch and Hamlin.

In addition, the last time JGR went without at least one victory in the first seven races of a season was back in 2007, when it didn’t notch its first win until July 1 at New Hampshire, the 17th race of that season.

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Stats, Results for Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway

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John Hunter Nemechek led the final six laps to win the Camping World Truck Series’ M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway.

It’s his second win in two weeks.

Nemechek beat out Johnny Sauter, Brandon Jones, Grant Engfinger and Christopher Bell.

Click here for race results.

Johnny Sauter keeps Truck points lead, John Hunter Nemechek in eighth

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With his Stage 2 win and his second-place finish in the M&M’s 200, Johnny Sauter retains his lead in the Camping World Truck Series standings leaving Iowa Speedway.

Sauter has a 42-point lead over Christopher Bell.

Completing the top five is: Chase Briscoe (-76), Matt Crafton (-95) and Ben Rhodes (-123).

With his second win in two weeks, John Hunter Nemechek moved from ninth to eighth in the standings, 153 points back from Sauter.

Click here for the full points standings.

John Hunter Nemechek wins at Iowa, second Truck victory in a row

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At one point going four-wide on a restart with seven laps to go, John Hunter Nemechek drove from fourth to first to win the M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway.

It is Nemechek’s second Camping World Truck Series win in two weeks after an emotional victory at Gateway Motorsports Park. It is his fifth career win.

Nemechek passed low on Chase Briscoe and Johnny Sauter into Turn 1 and cleared them on the backstretch a lap into the final run. The No. 8 team changed four tires during the final caution. Sauter, who led 72 laps, did not pit.

“All year we felt really good about this whole stretch,” Nemechek told Fox Sports 1. “Gateway, Iowa and Kentucky. Hopefully we can go to Kentucky and make it three in a row.”

Driving the same truck he used to win last week, Nemehcek had to pass Sauter, Briscoe and Noah Gragson on the restart.

The top five was Nemechek, Sauter, Brandon Jones, Grant Enfinger and Christopher Bell.

Stage 1 winner: Christopher Bell

Stage 2 winner: Johnny Sauter

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Brandon Jones’s third-place finish is his season best and first Truck top five since 2015 … Christopher Bell earned his sixth top five through nine races … Grant Enfinger earned his fourth top five, but it came at the expense of teammate Matt Crafton, who he caused to crash to bring out the final caution … Jesse Little finished ninth for his first career top 10 in his 11th start.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Ben Rhodes, Kaz Grala and Austin Wayne Self were in a wreck with three laps left in Stage 2 …. Ryan Truex’s night ended with 33 to go when he brought his truck to pit road for an engine problem. He finished 20th … Matt Crafton backed hard into the outside wall with 15 laps to go after being tagged by his teammate, Grant Enfinger, on his left-rear quarter panel. It is his first DNF of the year. Crafton finished 19th … Harrison Burton and Justin Haley crashed in Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag. Burton placed 11th; Haley 10th.

NOTABLE: The race was red flagged for 12 minutes and 26 seconds to clean up fluid from the three-truck crash at the end of Stage 2.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “That’s me. Four tires. That’s the man right there. Fire Alarm (Services). What do they want? They want a win and we got them one.” – Gere Kennon, crew chief for John Hunter Nemechek after winning the M&M’s 200.

WHAT’S NEXT: Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on July 6 on Fox Sports 1.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s farewell tour begins at Sonoma with service dogs named in his honor

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To commemorate Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s career and his final start at the track, Sonoma Raceway gave the driver a gift he doesn’t have to take home and will benefit others for year to come.

During his Friday press conference, the track surprised Earnhardt with three Labrador Retriever puppies. Named “Dale,” “Junior” and “Amy” – after his wife – the puppies are being given to the organization Paws as Loving Support (PALS) Assistance Dogs.

Donated by Micons Labradors and Fieldstone Labradors and sponsored by the track, the puppies will be trained to help children with disabilities in the Sonoma community.

“I’d like to thank the track for their investment to make this happen,” Earnhardt said. “It really warms my heart. Amy is going to be excited but sad she is not here. We do love dogs and making a difference in people’s lives. I’m excited to maybe come back and see how the dogs are doing.”

Sonoma is the first track Earnhardt is racing at for the last time since he announced his retirement plans in April.

The puppies will take part in PALS thorough training process, including time with incarcerated youth twice a week, before being matched with a child with a disability and his/her family as a service dog or placed with a professional as a facility dog.

PALS Assistance Dogs trains dogs to help children with disabilities including Autism, Down syndrome and mobility impairments. Some are placed with professionals working with children with special needs as facility dogs. In addition, Courthouse PALS dogs provide emotional support and comfort to victims and witnesses of violent crimes before, during and at the conclusion of a trial.

“Dale has such a huge following among our fans and we wanted to find a way for his legacy to carry forward locally, well beyond his days as a driver,” said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway president and general manager. “These three puppies – Dale, Junior and Amy – will make a meaningful difference in the lives of young people in the North Bay for years to come.”

On race day, 10,000 “Thanks, Junior” hand-held fans will be given out and the No. 88 will be written in the sky by the Patriots Jet Team.

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