BRISTOL, Tenn. and CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Story by Race Chaser Online Mid-Atlantic Correspondent Marshall Gabell – Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America photo –
Three weeks ago, Joe Gibbs Racing was struggling to find success in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. After the end of the Western Swing, the team was sitting winless and had just two of their four drivers on the Chase Grid.
Then the short tracks came – and the floodgates opened.
Joe Gibbs veteran Denny Hamlin triumphed at Martinsville Speedway three weeks ago, a performance that handed Gibbs and Toyota their first win of the new season — and their first non-restrictor plate track win in 30 races.
Substitute driver David Ragan and Matt Kenseth, Hamlin’s teammates, recorded top five finishes in that event, and exiting Martinsville, the team had their entire team on the provisional Chase Grid.
Now, a race removed from Martinsville, the team is back at a short track – Bristol Motor Speedway – for this weekend’s Food City 500, and the results are shaping up to be similar.
Kenseth grabbed the Coors Light Pole Award for the team on Friday evening, something he hopes that will lead him back to the winners circle in the Sprint Cup Series (his last win came during the 2013 season).
“Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and the guys made some really great adjustments,” Kenseth said after the run. “They had the very best for the last lap and we were able to put it together. Glad we’re starting from the pole, but we’ve got some work to do tomorrow to get it ready for Sunday.”
Along with the fast speed for the No. 20 machine, Gibbs also has defending race winner Carl Edwards starting third.
“We have a very fast car and it’s going to be a fun race,” Edwards said. “Pit selection is going to be great and the pit crew is fast. If everything goes the way I think it is then I think we should be leading after the first caution and that would be great.”
Hamlin qualified fifth with Ragan rolling from the 11th position after all four cars made it into the final round during knockout qualifying in Thunder Valley.
“We have a very fast car and it’s going to be a fun race,” Ragan said. “Pit selection is going to be great and the pit crew is fast. If everything goes the way I think it is then I think we should be leading after the first caution and that would be great.”
With four drivers inside the top dozen starting positions, the Gibbs stable could be poised for their first win at Bristol since the 2013 season.
Coverage for the Food City 500 begins at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on FOX Sunday afternoon.