Only months after sweeping NASCAR Monster Energy races at Texas Motor Speedway, Joe Gibbs Racing sputtered at the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 on Sunday afternoon.
Kyle Busch, who swept race weekend last April, was the team’s best finisher — a disappointing 15th — well back of Jimmie Johnson, the now seven-time winner at the Fort Worth speedway.
Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 was one spot back, while youngster Daniel Suarez finished 19th.
For Denny Hamlin, the No. 11, the day was like a rush-hour drive down I-35. Hamlin, who sports two top-10s this season, was 25th.
“We just have a lot of issues,” said Gibbs. “This was as tough a day as we’ve had. I think Kyle felt he had a chance early, and then we adjusted a little bit and it went away.
“Denny was off. I think our other two cars were, too. So, what it really says is we’re off. We got a lot of work to do.”
Busch’s weekend was memorable only for its futility, though he did rally for 10th in Stage 2. He clipped a wall during the first practice, when racers encountered a loose and slippery track, and didn’t make a qualifying attempt Friday due to mechanical trouble.
Gibbs doubted the new track at TMS was a factor in his drivers’ issues.
“It’s the same for everybody. It was a real test of nobody having any information going in,” Gibbs said. “It was who could handle it the best. Obviously, we didn’t.”
The weekend wasn’t a total waste for the Gibbs organization. On Saturday, Erik Jones won his second NASCAR Xfinity race at TMS.
No, no, Harvick
Don’t be surprised if Kevin Harvick starts believing he’ll never take a drive through Victory Lane at TMS.
Sitting as the pole sitter for the first time in 29 starts at TMS, Harvick finished fourth on Sunday, his third top-10 on the season. He was fourth in Stage 1, seventh in Stage 2 and sits 10th in the standings.
“It was definitely challenging,” said Harvick, a member of Stewart-Haas Racing. “I think we overachieved today. The only chance we had today was to have clean air. Our car was very sensitive to traffic and two tires.
“I was able to run out front and I could go OK then, but in traffic I really struggled off the corner.”
Harvick has two runner-up finishes at TMS.
A late pit mishap all but ended Ryan Blaney’s chances of winning Sunday.
Blaney, winner of the race’s first two stages, made his way up to eighth and went to pit row. However, he drove past his pit and was wedged between Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I hurt us on that one for sure,” said Blaney, who settled for 12th at the finish line. “We just weren’t able to pass anybody after that. Our car, at its worst point, was a third-place car.”
Blaney still made a little history. He became the first Wood Brothers’ driver to lead 100 or more laps in a race since Neil Bonnett in 1982. Blaney led 148 laps on Sunday.
Blaney’s first two stage wins of the year helped him move into sixth in the standings
“I don’t care if we lead just one lap as long as it’s the last one,” said Blaney. “We can lead 300-something. But we just weren’t in position to have the right lap led today.”