NASCAR & Auto Racing

Joe Gibbs Racing is the betting favorite to win another championship

Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch leaves the track after his right front tire blew, causing him to scrape the wall during Friday’s practice at Texas Motor Speedway.
Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch leaves the track after his right front tire blew, causing him to scrape the wall during Friday’s practice at Texas Motor Speedway. Star-Telegram

Kyle Busch is not having his best weekend. He wrecked his primary car in practice Friday and qualified 24th later that night.

But it’s hard to bet against Busch or any of his teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing to win Sunday’s AAA Texas 500. Gibbs’ drivers have won a third of the NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season, including Busch taking the checkered flag last spring in Texas.

Busch acknowledged that he’s “a little bit more behind the eight ball than we’d like to be,” but he wouldn’t rule out a possible victory. Busch charged from the 15th starting spot in the spring to win.

“All in all, I know we have a strong group and a great group of guys that will dig in as deep as they need to in order to make sure we can prepare to get ourselves back to where we need to be to be competitive this weekend,” Busch said. “We’d like to win the race and punch our ticket and move right on the Homestead. If we can’t have that, a good, solid top-five is what we are looking for.”

For a reigning champion, Busch has flown under the radar for much of the Chase.

He’s not Jimmie Johnson, who is searching for what would be a record-tying seventh championship. He’s not Kevin Harvick, who has won races in the previous two rounds to advance. He’s not like his teammate Denny Hamlin, who is playing with “house money” after narrowly making the Round of 8.

All of that is OK with Busch.

“We don’t need to be the ones that are flashy,” Busch said. “We’ve been able to put ourselves in the right position to kind of stay in the right points battle of what we have going on to not have to be flashy. Last year, I felt like we flew under the radar too a little bit.”

Yes, Busch did with Jeff Gordon chasing a championship in his final full-time season and Harvick going for his second straight championship under NASCAR’s new Chase playoffs.

But JGR is certainly not flying under the radar. All four drivers — Busch, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards — remain alive for the championship round.

They can have as many as three of the final four spots after Johnson secured a spot with last week’s win at Martinsville. It’s a safe bet that at least two of them make it considering Hamlin, Kenseth and Busch sit 2-3-4 in the point standings.

“They’re a great organization and they’re doing an amazing job over there,” Johnson said. “I have a lot of respect for them. I know they will be tough.”

Added Kurt Busch, Kyle’s brother who is in the Chase for Stewart-Haas Racing: “JGR has been the team to beat all year. We know that, nothing is going to change. Right now, they’re on top of their game. If we’re able to beat them, then that’s something special.”

The JGR drivers could become somewhat of a hometown team for area racing fans, too. Toyota and JGR have been together since 2008 and Toyota is moving its North American headquarters to Plano.

TMS president Eddie Gossage chuckles at the notion a racing team owned by Joe Gibbs, the Hall of Fame football coach of the Washington Redskins, could somehow become a fan favorite in Cowboys Country.

“Yeah, but I can tell you that Toyota has signed on to do business with us that they weren’t doing before,” Gossage said. “I’m sure they’ll be doing even more, so I do think you’ll see this as a home track in many ways for them. And the Gibbs team is the hot team this year. They’re the No. 1 team in the sport right now.”

Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison

AAA Texas 500

1 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5

Three to watch

Carl Edwards: The JGR driver is starting ninth and finds himself in a must-win situation to keep his championship hopes alive. Edwards has won here three times, and has posted four top-10s in his last four races here.

Chase Elliott: He’s searching for his first Cup win and has a strong history of success at Texas. He finished fifth in his first Cup race here last spring, and won his first Xfinity Series race at Texas in the spring of 2014. Elliott would love to become another “spoiler,” the role Jimmie Johnson has played the past two falls.

Alex Bowman: He’s replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet and will be making his fifth start of the season. He’s in much better starting position (16th) than in previous races here, and the 88 car has always fared well here. Earnhardt Jr. finished second in the spring race.

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