Today begins a critical three-week stretch for Joe Gibbs Racing in its search for speed, particularly at 1.5-mile tracks.
Starting today at Kansas Speedway, the Cup Series competes the next three weekends at 1.5-mile tracks (Charlotte hosts the All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 after Kansas).
After this stretch, Cup teams will race at only once more at a 1.5-mile track before the playoffs begin in September. Five of the 10 playoff races will be on 1.5-mile tracks, including Kansas and Charlotte in the second round.
“I don’t think we’ve been as strong anywhere as we want to be,’’ Matt Kenseth said. “Certainly everybody likes to talk about the mile-and-a-halves because there are a lot of intermediate tracks. I think this will be a good test for us because it’s historically been a really good track for us as an organization the last few years.’’
In the season’s first three races on 1.5-mile tracks — Atlanta, Las Vegas and Texas — Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to lead a lap. Also, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Kenseth have a combined average finish of 17.5 in those events.
Kenseth has two of the team’s three top 10s on such tracks with a third at Atlanta and a ninth at Las Vegas. Hamlin’s sixth-place finish at Las Vegas is the team’s only other top 10 at a 1.5-mile track this year. Busch was headed for a top-five finish at Las Vegas until his last-lap incident with Joey Logano.
“I think we need speed,’’ Hamlin said. “There’s been some racetracks where I felt like we missed it on the handling side of things, but overall I think our window is a dramatically tighter this year, having to hit our balances just right to be competitive to win races. I think that’s been kind of the difference over the last couple of years. That comes just from a lack of overall speed. Speed comes from a lot of different things. We have to go to work on each one of those things to make speed better.’’
Kansas could help cure some of those ills. Kenseth has three top 10s in the last four races there. Busch has top-five finishes in each of his last four starts there, including a win.
While Gibbs struggles to find speed, it remains winless in a season that has seen eight different winners in the first 10 races. Those drivers represent seven different organizations.
“That’s the most frustrating part for us is we just haven’t been able to get to victory lane yet, but we know we’re on the brink of it,’’ Busch said.