Updated March 31
How strong has Joe Gibbs Racing been through the first six races?
So strong that the lone driver of the JGR trio without a victory actually leads our Power Rankings.
In seasons past, if you'd have said JGR has two victories in the first six races, almost assuredly Tony Stewart would have been responsible for one of them. But with Kyle Busch having moved into the No. 18 ride in place of J.J. Yeley and Denny Hamlin having established himself as a winner in the No. 11, Stewart no longer carries the weight of JGR's success or failure on his shoulders.
Whatever expectations Gibbs had in making the move to Toyota have been met, if not exceeded in the early going.
Busch dominated the season-opening Daytona 500 before ultimately falling short of the victory. In his first four races for Gibbs he nabbed three top fives, including the first Cup victory for Toyota. He's had some hard luck the past couple of races, finishing 17th at Bristol and 38th Sunday at Martinsville.
Hamlin was in the opposite boat. He struggled at the start of the season before hitting stride the past couple of races, leading 98 laps and finishing sixth at Bristol and leading 82 laps and grabbing Toyota's second win at Martinsville. The victory at his home track came as a huge relief to the Virginia native.
"When you get so close to winning so many races and something bad happens or things just don't work out in your favor at the end and you end up losing a win, it's tough to maintain confidence," Hamlin said. "It's tough -- your self-esteem starts going down. It takes its toll on you -- last week was just like how many times do we have to go through this.
"I felt like we had a chance to probably win three in a row, but the first two races just had a lot of problems. A lot of thanks go the guy at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) to help support us at Joe Gibbs Racing to try to get our issues worked out. They don't have to -- those are issues within our race team that we had. For them to kind of take a lead role and say that they would do whatever it took to help us fix the problems -- that goes a long way. And that is what you look for in a manufacturer from those guys. And I couldn't be prouder to be with them."
And then there's Stewart. No doubt after seeing both his teammates win, Stewart is eager to pick up a trophy of his own, but he can take some solace in having the most consistent runs of the bunch. He leads the team with four top 10s, and even when he finished 43rd due to a blown tire at Las Vegas, he was running in the top 10 at the time. With a different bit of pit strategy, it could have been Stewart in Victory Lane at Martinsville.
"I screwed us today," said Stewart. "I pitted and took a gamble when we had 40 laps on tires. I thought everybody would come in, but if they didn't, I thought we might get a run and catch them. It didn't work out. I ended up losing 11 spots, I think, so it was a bad decision on my part."
Power Rankings after Martinsville:
|Took over the Chase lead by 20 points thanks to a sixth place finish and Jimmie Johnson?s misfortune. This is now the Penske Racing driver?s championship to lose.|
|Saw his seven point lead evaporate thanks to a cut tire and trip into the wall on Sunday. Johnson now must hope a similar such fate happens to Keselowski next week at Homestead to have any shot at a sixth title.|
|Nearly ran the table in Phoenix by leading all practices and taking the pole had he been able to win the race. But a poor decision on lane choice for a late restart cost Busch a shot at Victory Lane.|
|Ending the year on a positive note but wasn?t able to match his Phoenix victory of last November. Still a solid day with a fourth place performance.|
|Was the victim of Jeff Gordon?s revenge that completely eliminated Bowyer from championship contention. He wasn?t an angel in the turn of events but Bowyer definitely got the worst of the situation.|
|Hamlin?s second place finish in Phoenix a welcome rebound from two weeks of disappointment for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He?ll be a factor for a win next Sunday in Homestead.|
|Snapped a 44-race winless drought with Sunday?s win ironically coming on the weekend when reports of his evacuation from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 broke out.|
|A decent day for ?The Biff? in Phoenix, who was able to dodge all the last lap craziness to bring home his Roush Fenway Racing Ford seventh.|
|Minding his own business until getting swept up in the Gordon-Bowyer fight. Logano was on his way to a nice effort to follow up his ninth Nationwide Series win on Saturday.|
|Rough way to earn a fifth place finish as Newman was one of the unfortunate souls to get caught in the last lap crash on the main straightaway.|
|Not a god day at all for Smoke who spun late after making contact racing for position. A 19th place finish for Stewart.|
|Will make the final Sprint Cup start of his career for Roush Fenway Racing next week at Homestead on the heels of a 14th place effort in Phoenix.|
|13||Martin Truex Jr.||10|
|His race was over nearly before it started with a blown engine. After a stellar regular season Truex Jr. has suffered mightily throughout the Chase.|
|An 11th place finish for Edwards as he brings to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in his career.|