Short track spin crucial for Joe Gibbs Racing after awkward start to 2022

The NASCAR Cup Series is about to become a short track race. The next three events on the Cup tour will take place on tracks under one mile: Richmond Raceway, Martinsville Speedway and the second trip to the dirt version of Bristol Motor Speedway. This trio of races should offer fans plenty of action.

For Joe Gibbs Racing, the upcoming short track tour is the perfect opportunity to turn his season around. For the first six races, it has been a rough start for all four JGR drivers. He considers that Christopher Bell’s third-place finish at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) on Sunday was only the second top-five finish for JGR all season. Not to mention, even with the top five, Bell only moved up to 23rd in points.

Kyle Busch has the only other JGR top fives, a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Busch had a chance to get another one at COTA, but a final-lap spin dropped him in the running order to 28th at the checkered flag. Martin Truex Jr. worked his way up to seventh place. And while Denny Hamlin won stage two, he was never able to recover from a spin late in the race and was placed 18th. Hamlin finished in the top 10 25 times in 2021, but he doesn’t have a single top 10 finish this year and is currently ranked 22nd in points.

The good news is that Richmond has been one of the team’s strongholds for more than a decade. Of the last 25 races at Richmond, 14 have been won by a JGR driver. Only Truex and Busch have won five of the last seven, and either one of them would be a great pick to win next weekend. Truex should be considered the favorite thanks to his six consecutive top-five finishes, including three wins.

But even Truex’s recent success can’t match Busch’s career record at Richmond. In 32 starts at the three-quarter-mile track, he had six wins, 18 top-fives and 25 top-10s. Also, he never failed to complete a race at Richmond, only finishing worse than 20 once and completing every lap of every race he ran at Richmond, except for one event in which he finished a lap behind. You can decide which of those stats is more impressive, but it goes without saying that Richmond is one of Busch’s best tracks.

More than anything, Hamlin and Bell need to focus on running full races and getting good results. Richmond is a great place to do that for Hamlin, who has finished in the top five in eight of his last 10 races at Richmond. If Hamlin can count on any clues for a good performance, Richmond is the place. Bell’s history on the track isn’t as long as Hamlin’s, but he has posted two top-five finishes there in just three starts. No doubt the No. 11 and No. 20 teams have Richmond marked on the schedule.

Martinsville will be another good opportunity for JGR, albeit a bit more challenging. Hamlin has been battling Hendrick Motorsports drivers for Martinsville wins for virtually his entire career. The most recent episode ended with Alex Bowman spinning Hamlin as the two battled for the lead in the closing laps. Hamlin left Martinsville heated that day and perhaps more eager than ever to get back into victory lane. Although his last win there was in 2015, Hamlin has won five times at Martinsville. He is also a frequent favorite on the famed short track, leading laps in 24 of his 32 starts there. With legends like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson no longer on the field, few drivers in the Cup Series today can boast a Martinsville record like Hamlin’s.

Busch and Truex weren’t strong at Martinsville early in their careers, but they’ve made up for it the past six seasons. Busch’s two wins at Martinsville came during a streak of eight consecutive top-five finishes between 2015 and 2019. He has quieted down in the Paperclip ever since, though the No. 18 returned to the top-five in the playoff race of Martinsville last year. Perhaps Truex is once again the favorite because he and JGR have been a perfect match at Martinsville. In six starts in a Toyota JGR, Truex has three wins and five top-five finishes. martins-ville, Of course.

That leaves the Bristol gravel race, which will be more of a wild card. Like the inaugural event, a lot will depend on who can hit the closest setup in practice and make good adjustments throughout the race. However, JGR shouldn’t be far from the favourites. Truex didn’t finish well, but he led the most laps in last year’s main event. He also dominated and won the Truck Series race. Hamlin also had a chance to win last year, but couldn’t get past Joey Logano in the closing laps. That was one of several races that got away from Hamlin in 2021, but he did get a top-five finish.

Bell and Busch got tangled up in accidents in the final Bristol dirt race. However, this year’s event is still a good opportunity for both of them. Bell is a very experienced dirt runner and should feel at home when many of his competitors will be outside of his comfort zones. And even on a dirt surface, betting against Busch at Bristol feels like a bad bet.

JGR has obviously had a rocky start to 2022. Compounding their problems are the six different drivers who have won all six races this year, including first-time winners Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe and now Ross Chastain. Playoff spots are filling up fast. But if history is any guide, JGR will be back to normal during the short track change. The next three races are the best opportunity for Truex, Busch, Hamlin and Bell to move up the points standings and pick up wins. If the Gibbs drivers cannot secure good results on their best tracks, it will be cause for concern.

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