Upon Further Review: Bristol

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Car owner Joe Gibbs professes that when he makes driver/crew chief changes, he’s not quite sure how the pairing will work.

While not every move leads to instant success, Gibbs has become proficient in this area. Carl Edwards is the latest example.

Edwards’ victory Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway continued his best start to a Sprint Cup season since 2008. He’s doing it in his first year with crew chief Dave Rogers.

“I truly have never worked with someone that I think is more like me and communicates the same way as I do,’’ Edwards said. “If we don’t win the championship, it will not be because of any problem between Dave and I.

“I’m not just saying this because he won this race, but he’s already like a brother. We don’t get along with everybody, but we get along with each other really well, so it’s great.’’

In the season’s first eight races, Edwards has one win, two poles, four top-five finishes and seven top-10 finishes. He also has an average finish of 6.4 and led 475 laps. The last time he had more than one victory eight races into a season was 2008. He had three wins at that point on the way to winning a career-high nine races and finishing second in the points.

While fast cars help — Joe Gibbs Racing has won the past three Cup races and four of eight this season — Rogers said the time spent with Edwards in the offseason created the comfort level each has with the other.

“I just feel really comfortable being me calling the races,’’ Rogers said. “I call them the way I want them. I don’t have to take on an adaptive personality of any sort, and it works for Carl, and likewise, I hope he feels very comfortable being Carl and communicating the way he wants to, and that’s a big deal. That’s a real big deal.’’

So is how Gibbs has altered his driver/crew chief pairings. Consider:

  • Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500 this year in his first race with Mike Wheeler as crew chief and has three top-three finishes in eight races.
  • Kyle Busch won four of his first nine races with crew chief Adam Stevens after returning from injury last season on the way to claiming his first Sprint Cup championship.
  • Matt Kenseth won two of his first eight races with Jason Ratcliff as crew chief in 2013 on the way to winning a career-high seven events and placing second in the points.

Edwards never had worked with Rogers, and Kenseth had never worked with Ratcliff before their pairing. Stevens and Busch had success in the Xfinity Series, and Wheeler was a longtime engineer for Hamlin.

Even past history is no guarantee how a pairing will work under the pressure in the Cup series.

“It’s one of the hardest things in sports to get a great chemistry between two guys, particularly at what they do,’’ Gibbs said.

Maybe so, but he’s found the right combination often.

— Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson put on one of the most thrilling duels this season in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, leading some to wonder if shorter races would create more of that type of racing.

The 200-lap race was preceded by two 50-lap heat races. Both heat races saw winners (Erik Jones and Austin Dillon) lead every lap. The 200-lap main event was 100 laps shorter than last year’s race (the difference with the addition of the two heat races).

Larson, who fell from first to third on the final restart, was bummed about the finish but not the racing.

“I think every race should be shorter in NASCAR,’’ he said. “Shorter races just make for more intense racing. You look at the Truck Series, every race is pretty intense when Kyle Busch isn’t in it. Every race should be shorter.’’

Larson noted the intensity of the Xfinity race also was related to the fact that Busch, who was second, had a quicker car. That kept them close as they weaved through traffic. The ending added to excitement with Jones scoring the win.

That race is not reason enough to shorten races. Just because a race is shorter does not mean similar type of action will take place.

— Only two drivers have finished in the top 10 in both short-track races this season. Carl Edwards was sixth at Martinsville and won Bristol. Ryan Newman was 10th at Martinsville and ninth at Bristol. They’ll try to keep their streak going this weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

Matt DiBenedetto finished a career-high sixth at Bristol. … Clint Bowyer finished a season-high eighth at Bristol. … Trevor Bayne’s fifth-place finish was his best Cup result since winning the 2011 Daytona 500.

— Goodyear said it would take tires that failed from the cars of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth to its Akron, Ohio, facility to analyze why those Joe Gibbs Racing teams had issues and the rest of the field did not.

— If you missed it, you can check out what songs drivers selected to be played when they were introduced before Sunday’s race. Artists ranged from Miley Cyrus to Eric Church to the Beastie Boys.