Joe Gibbs Racing Turned a Corner at Dover and Should Be Thrilled With What Lies Ahead
Martin Truex Jr. snapped a personal 54-race winless streak in points-paying races Monday at Dover Motor Speedway in a race that could be a turning point for both himself and the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization.
Truex led 68 of the final 69 laps at Dover, while his teammates Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell filled in fifth and sixth, respectively. NASCAR Cup Series rookie Ty Gibbs finished 13th to complete the best race of the season for JGR overall.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have lagged behind Christopher Bell
Sure, Bell led the points standings for the previous three weeks after his victory in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Still, he had accounted for five of the seven top-five finishes by a Joe Gibbs Racing driver through the first 10 races of the season as the series headed for Dover.
Bell finished third in the 2022 championship standings and led the organization with three wins a year ago, but he was the only driver to place a JGR Toyota in Victory Lane for the remainder of the 2022 season after Denny Hamlin won the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Bell and his No. 20 team surged throughout the second half of last season, but the rest of the organization fell short of its typical standards. Hamlin narrowly missed the Championship 4 when Ross Chastain clipped him by two points for the last of the final four title spots with the famous “Hail Melon” move on the final lap of the playoff race at Martinsville Speedway.
Kyle Busch won his only race of the season in April in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He did not make it past the first round of the playoffs and was embroiled in Silly Season drama that ultimately saw him move to the No. 8 car for Richard Childress Racing in 2023 after 15 years as the driver of the No. 18 car for JGR. Truex did not win a race for the first time since 2014 and missed the playoffs entirely.
JGR had placed at least three drivers in the top 10 in the points standings in the previous three seasons and six of the last seven up until 2022.
With the new Next Gen car model that NASCAR designed to promote parity and a stable of aging drivers, JGR was at risk of falling behind the other powerhouse operations, especially as fellow four-car organization Hendrick Motorsports won four of the first nine events of the 2023 campaign.
JGR did not necessarily have a bad start to the season, but it resembled a team more similar to Stewart-Haas Racing than HMS. Bell was to JGR what Kevin Harvick has been to SHR for years. Harvick regularly makes the playoffs and contends for championships while his three teammates struggle to consistently win races or qualify for the postseason.
Success at Dover could boost the entire JGR organization moving forward
After Truex’s victory and the strong overall performance at Dover, JGR now has two drivers essentially locked into the 16-driver playoff field. Hamlin is in prime position to also reach the playoffs, as he sits seventh and third among drivers who have yet to win this season.
Even team owner Joe Gibbs’ grandson, Ty, has impressed as a rookie with a string of four consecutive top-10 finishes between the March race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Easter Sunday dirt race at Bristol. His 13th-place run at Dover bumped him up to 18th in the points standings and only 22 points behind for the final playoff position.
The Dover race could be the start of a strong stretch of races for JGR. The next three races on the Cup Series schedule are intermediate oval tracks that rely on aerodynamics and handling in similar fashion to Dover.
After Sunday’s upcoming race at Kansas Speedway, where JGR has seven wins, the series heads to two of the organization’s best tracks. JGR cars’ average finishes of 11.9 and 11.8 at Darlington Raceway and Charlotte, respectively, rank within the top four of all tracks for the organization. JGR also has 18 combined victories at those two facilities, including at least one win at Darlington in three straight seasons from 2019-21.
HMS and Chevrolet have been the stalwarts of the 2023 season to date. However, Joe Gibbs Racing’s performance at Dover, where HMS typically dominates and has 22 combined victories, could be a sign that the flagship Toyota organization might be ready to challenge for the top spot among NASCAR teams as the Cup Series heads toward the midpoint of the regular season.