TALLADEGA, Ala – After scoring a 1-2-3 finish in the season opening Daytona 500, most would have thought that despite a brand new aero package for the second superspeedway race of the year, that both Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing would once again be the ones to beat in Sunday’s GEICO 500.
See, heading into this weekend’s race at the Talladega Superspeedway, JGR had won six of the first nine races of the year. Among those six came from three of their four cars. With Talladega looming next, why not win for a seventh time already?
Denny Hamlin is among the best superspeedway racers in the game while Kyle Busch had two top three finishes in his last three Spring race starts on the 2.66-mile Alabama oval. Furthermore, Erik Jones’ last three superspeedway finishes were first, eighth and third respectively.
So, when all four of the JGR cars qualified 20th or worse on Saturday, it just seemed like they went a little conservative on the setups and saved something for the race instead.
Unfortunately, their day never came around.
Hamlin, was involved in the Lap 10 crash with Darrell Wallace Jr. and finished 36th. Martin Truex Jr. was involved in the Lap 181 accident on the backstretch and limped home 20th. Jones, spun on his own towards the end in Turn 3 and brought his No. 20 Toyota home 19th.
When manufacturers all had plans to work exclusively together on Sunday, that hurt Busch the most because on the final restart with three laps-to-go, Busch was the lone Toyota in the top 20.
Would everyone behind him team up against him?
His saving grace was that his big brother Kurt Busch was lining up right behind him on the final restart. Busch, had a front row starting spot, so maybe big brother would throw him a bone and draft with him.
Instead, manufacturer, not blood, won out.
Busch, dropped to the low line and pushed fellow Chevy driver Chase Elliott out there, which left his younger brother out to dry.
“We restarted outside the front row and I thought the 1 (Kurt Busch) behind me would want to race for the win and not just fall in line behind Fords and in front of Chevrolets and he would go with us a little bit there,” said younger brother Kyle. “Team order prevailed I guess. That kind of sucked. We weren’t able to have the run. As soon as he bailed off from behind me and then two others behind me got double-wide and then it just sucked me six rows back.
“I had to try to recover after that and all I could get was whatever I got. When you got older on tires and cars started to ill-handle a little bit, it was interesting. We got more downforce and yet the cars are driving worse, I don’t know how that’s possible. It was just interesting how you could be all over the place and not just be stuck. Guys were moving a little bit, you could make some moves a little bit. There was a section of race where the bottom lane didn’t move anywhere and the top lane didn’t move anywhere – we were stuck where we were at for like eight laps. That was about all I really saw.”
For Kyle, he fell to a 10th place finish which is still impressive in that he’s scored a top 10 in literally every race in 2019. For Kurt, he would fall to sixth in his No. 1 Chevrolet for his seventh top 10 finish at Talladega since the fall of 2014 and scored his ninth consecutive top 12 finish on the season.
“I feel like we had a great day with our Monster Energy Chevy,” said Kurt. “I just didn’t deliver the win. I felt like I had it in my hands and let it drop. I didn’t make the right moves at the end to bring our Monster Energy Chevy a victory.
“It’s tough. I just didn’t execute what I needed to do to win the race. But all in all, it was a great day for Chevrolet and the teamwork from everybody. … Chase Elliott deserves the win. He did everything you would need a teammate from a brand to do. He put himself in position at the end. I just didn’t know what lane I needed to pick going into Turn 3 and I got swallowed up in the draft.
“I think it was pretty good all the way around with each of the manufacturers doing their thing. No lane seemed more effective than years past. I’d give the package a thumbs up. … I just feel like I gave this one away today. Our Monster Energy Chevy was fast, and now we’ll go to a fast, one-mile track with all the horsepower. Kyle Busch