JOLIET, Ill. – Four days before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kevin Harvick said “we’re going to pound (Joe Gibbs Racing) into the ground.”
At the same time, it wasn’t exactly a day at the beach for the JGR quartet:
* Hamlin, who started 29th, spun on Lap 2 after making contact with A.J. Allmendinger. Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota suffered only minor damage and he was able to continue after repairs on pit road but fell a lap down. He got it back at the halfway point and continued toward his first career Sprint Cup win at Chicagoland.
* Edwards had a speeding penalty on pit road that also put him a lap down. Like Hamlin, Edwards rallied to finish behind his winning JGR teammate.
* Kenseth had a weak start and then found himself pushed back to 15th prior to the last restart. But Kenseth put the pedal to the metal and worked his way back up to for his top-five finish.
* And then there was Busch, who led nearly half (121) of the 267 laps, but was trailing in the closing laps.
Put all that together and it’s likely JGR would have ended with a mediocre day.
Instead, all four drivers wound up in the top 10.
“We had everything go against us, really,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “It was just one thing after another. We just kept fighting.”
Added Hamlin, “This was a great day for us. We obviously came back from adversity and did a lot of great things, had a great day with the exception of Lap 2. It’s amazing we were able to come back the way we were and do the things we were able to do.”
When he went a lap down, Edwards couldn’t envision his final outcome.
“No, not at that time,” he said. “But my guys do a great job on pit road and (crew chief Darian Grubb) never loses his cool, ever. He played the game perfectly with pit strategy.
“Then, at the end, once we got into Turn 1 on the final restart, I was like, ‘I got this thing.’ I thought, ‘Denny is mine, he’s a sitting duck.’ He drove the wheels off that thing, really hung on with those tires that he had.”
Kenseth salvaged a strong finish when it could have gone the other direction, particularly on the final restart.
“We really struggled,” Kenseth said. “We had probably a 15th-place car at best and barely hung onto the lead lap all day and got the right line on the restart.
“Everybody got bottled up. I think I passed seven or eight of them in the first corner, another two or three on the next set of corners. Somehow, we finished fifth. We definitely finished way better than we deserved today.”