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Denny Hamlin: Joe Gibbs Racing’s rebound won’t happen ‘overnight’ or ‘in a month’

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With NASCAR visiting a track where Joe Gibbs Racing has won the last three races, one of its drivers admits the issues that have plagued the team so far in 2017 won’t be remedied quickly.

“I think we are slowly getting better, we’re gaining more knowledge trying to figure out what it is that we need to work on,” Denny Hamlin said Friday at Richmond International Raceway. “It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to happen this week, it won’t happen in a month. Some things are going to take a long time for us to get better at, but I’m very confident that when push comes to shove, we’re in September starting the (playoffs), we should be hopefully back where we were, if not better.”

Entering the Toyota Owners 400, Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to win race through eight events. All four of its drivers sit outside the top 10 in points. Hamlin was the last active JGR driver to win, winning last years’ regular season finale at Richmond.

The 2016 Daytona 500 winner is 15th in the standings and has yet to finish in the top five. By this point in each of the last two seasons, Hamlin had three top fives and one win.

“It’s always taken me a long time to get over winter break,” Hamlin said. “For whatever reason, it’s taking 10 races or whatever into the season to kind of hit my stride. I’m not really sure what it is. I try just as hard at the beginning as I do at the end. It just seems like that break in the offseason, it takes myself a little while to get over that hump, get in the flow of things. I’m not really sure.”

JGR is still learning about its new 2018 Camry bodies, which Toyota introduced this year. Furniture Row Racing, which is in a technical alliance with JGR, has one win with Martin Truex Jr. (Las Vegas), who is also third in points. Erik Jones is 13th in the standings with just one top 10.

Truex and Jones claimed the top spots in Friday’s only Cup practice session.

“We all get the same information,” Truex said Friday. “I guess at the end of the day it’s how you use it, how you put it to use. I think our team, (crew chief) Cole (Pearn), (engineer) Jazzy (Jeff Curtis), (competition director) Pete (Rondeau), our guys in general are just – right now we’re just clicking. We have a lot of confidence. Things are going well.”

Through eight races, there have been six different winners. NASCAR America analyst Steve Letarte has called this Sunday’s race “pivotal” for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I think our competition also did a phenomenal job over the off‑season of getting better,” Hamlin said. “They just showed up this year with just more raw speed than what they had at the end of last year. It’s the same drivers, same crew chiefs, but their cars are faster. That makes their job a whole lot easier. But these are the trying times, you could say, that defines your character. It makes you work hard. We were on top for probably a year and a half, every week having four out of five of the fastest cars each week. Sometimes we won, sometimes we didn’t. But we’re going to get better. We’re not on top right now, so we’ve got to work extra hard to get there.”

One piece of the JGR puzzle who has had to work harder is Daniel Suarez.

The defending Xfinity Series champion enters the ninth race of his rookie season 22nd in points. The biggest road block for him has been working with two crew chiefs. His initial partner, Dave Rogers, took an indefinite leave of absence following the West Coast Swing. Since then, the No. 19 team has been led by Scott Graves, who was Suarez’ crew chief last year during his title campaign.

“It’s been a lot going on for sure,” Suarez said Friday. “I felt like we were going in a good direction maybe a month and a half ago and then we had some changes that were out of our hands and I feel like we had to start again on these processes in the Cup car. Scott, he’s a very smart crew chief, he knows a lot and he has won two championships in a row in the Xfinity Series, but in the Cup car it’s different and he knows that and I’m learning that. I believe now we are learning together instead of I’m just learning myself.”

All of these comments were made Friday morning and afternoon. In the evening, Matt Kenseth did his part to turn things around for JGR by winning the pole for Sunday’s race.

It’s the first pole for JGR since the Kenseth claimed it last fall at Kansas Speedway.

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NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 79: Jason Weigandt on Supercross, Monster and Jimmie Johnson

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Motocross journalist and broadcaster Jason Weigandt joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss the Supercross finale and the start of Outdoor season.

Weigandt, the editor of Racer X online magazine, also discussed how Monster Energy’s new title sponsorship of NASCAR has been perceived in Supercross, which the company has backed since 2008, and why he believes Jimmie Johnson isn’t NASCAR’s most popular driver despite his success.

Weigandt is the play-by-play announcer for the 2017 motocross season, which will be shown on NBCSN as well as on the NBC Sports Gold package (which will offer all motos, qualifiers and practices for the 12-round season as well as on-demand access to the past two seasons).

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

NASCAR America: 50 States in 50 Shows: North Dakota

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Today’s edition of “50 States in 50 Shows” profiles Nodak Speedway in Minot, North Dakota.

The 3/8-mile dirt track is located 110 miles north of Bismarck and is located on the grounds of the North Dakota State Fair.

Watch the video for the full look Nodak Speedway.

 

NASCAR America: Austin Dillon: Feels good to beat Jimmie Johnson in ‘chess match’

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Following the first win of his NASCAR Cup Series career, Austin Dillon said he was proud of his team for coming out on top in a “chess match” against Jimmie Johnson.

“We’re chasing down what I consider ‘The GOAT’ (Greatest of All Time),” Dillon told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “Jimmie’s tied with the best of the best. To beat him in a little chess match there at the end, it feels real good. At a track I’ve seen him win multiple races sitting in the stands.”

Dillon was able to make his last tank of gas stretch 70 laps, two more than Johnson, on his way to winning the Coca-Cola 600.

The win comes at a track Dillon has competed on since the early days of his career.

“I grew up racing in the 1/5-mile here, Bandeleros and Legends cars, to get my first win here, there’s nothing better,” Dillon said.

Watch the video for the full interview and to hear Richard Childress’ thoughts on the win.

Something finally goes right for Erik Jones in first Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. — For the first time since March, fortune finally bounced in Erik Jones‘ favor.

That was after a piece of debris bounced through his grille.

On Lap 20 of the Coca-Cola 600, debris from a wreck between Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski littered the frontstretch of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Jones, running in the top 10, managed to avoid the wreck itself. But the rookie couldn’t avoid whatever caused a football-sized hole in the nose of his No. 77 Toyota.

“You start the day off like that and you’re like, ‘Man, it’s not going to be easy,'” said Jones, who finished a career best seventh. “That kind of hurt us all day, I think. Not a ton. Obviously we had still had a fast car, but it was definitely slowing us down some.”

Competing in the longest race of his career to date, the episode looked like the latest in a series of misfortunes that have plagued the driver, who turns 21 on Tuesday.

Jones entered the race with two DNFs in the last three points races and three DNFs if you counted the previous weekend’s All-Star Race.

Before the All-Star Race, Jones caused three cautions at Kansas Speedway for spins before finishing 22nd. He wrecked out at Talladega in a big crash and the week before that was eliminated at Richmond when the race was five laps old.

Entering the longest race of the year, Jones had just one top-10 finish, eighth at Phoenix.

Following the accident Sunday, Jones restarted 27th. The rest of the night was “smooth” on the way to his best finish in 15 Cup starts.

“I think we had a top-five car,” Jones said. “Kind of missed on a couple of adjustments at the end, got behind on the racecar a little bit. Just kind of fell back at the end.”

By the halfway point at Lap 200 and after a 1 hour and 39 minute rain delay, he was in eighth. During the 400-lap race, his average running spot was 11.8.

“We didn’t have any troubles in the pits,” Jones said. “We didn’t have any troubles on the track (after the Lap 20 accident), we had a pretty good car all night. So it was just nice to have a solid night. I feel like we’re plenty capable of running in the top 10 every week, we just got to keep having days and night like this.”

Jones is now 18th in the points standings and 10 points ahead of fellow rookie Daniel Suarez.

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