News & Media


JGR engine woes continue as Hamlin latest victim

March 28, 2011, Bill Kimm, NASCAR.com

FONTANA, Calif. -- Organization's third driver in four races to post a DNF due to engine problems

It's been a season of head-scratching for Joe Gibbs Racing and its three drivers as all but one race weekend this season, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin or Joey Logano have had engine problems. Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, that trend continued.

In the early morning hours before the start of the Auto Club 400, The No. 20 team of Logano changed their engine after the team saw something they didn't like in inspection. But Logano was able to run the race and finish 25th.

"Usually when one of us has a problem -- all the engines are very, very close -- usually all of us do.""

--DENNY HAMLIN

Hamlin, on the other hand, wasn't as fortunate.

On Lap 82, Hamlin fell from third to the tail end of the field with what he thought was an electrical issue. Hamlin stayed out hoping for a caution to come, eventually going a lap down. Right after the No. 11 was lapped, caution dropped on Lap 102 for debris and Hamlin got back on the lead lap.

But on pit road, the magnitude of the issue set in quickly for crew chief Mike Ford and he knew this race was over.

"It's in the motor, it's smoking now," Ford said on the radio. "It looks like the thing is burned up. There's smoke coming up out of the air box."

Hamlin took his No. 11 to the garage and he became the third Joe Gibbs Racing driver in four races to post a DNF for engine problems.

"It's disappointing for sure," Hamlin said. "We had a good car. We lost some power early in the day when we started dropping positions and didn't know exactly what it was but obviously it was another engine failure.

"It looked like something in the valve train. Obviously we've got pistons beat up pretty good. It's tough to say what exactly came first, what problem came first, but it's definitely internal where it ended our day."

And after learning about the No. 20's engine being changed before the race, Hamlin isn't all that surprised.

"I heard about [Logano's] engine actually on the grid and I talked to the No. 20 guys. I said, 'Y'all change motors?' And they said, 'Yeah.' So I immediately became worried because I know the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Usually when one of us has a problem -- all the engines are very, very close -- usually all of us do."

This is Hamlin's third engine issue this season. The No. 11 team changed engines before the races at Daytona and Las Vegas, but Auto Club Speedway marks Hamlin's first DNF of the season due to engine woes. Busch had engine issues at Las Vegas and failed to finish the race and Logano posted a DNF at Phoenix after his engine expired.

In all, there have been six issues regarding JGR engines this season and Hamlin is concerned.

"At this point, now it's starting to affect me so I'm worried a little bit more," Hamlin said. "Still, its frustrating because you want to do the best you can each week and Mike and the team did a great job setting up the car and we had a fast car. But it doesn't matter in the end if you can't finish and you can't finish where you're supposed to."

The most concerning thing to all the JGR drivers is the lack of knowledge as to why all of a sudden the team is having frequent engine problems.

"Each one seems to be isolated and different," Hamlin said. "I can't really pinpoint whether it's one problem. If we knew exactly what it was, hopefully we'd get it fixed. Right now, we've got to go to work and do some inspecting on this thing and see what we can do to finally finish the race.

"It's of the same nature, but not the same problem every single time and that's what's so questionable about it. What the heck is going on? It leaves us to say we have our work cut out for us at this point."

Busch didn't have any engine issues at Fontana, leading 151 of 200 laps and finishing third, but knowing two of his teammates did has him a little concerned as well.

"It's unfortunate obviously. It's a big blow I'm sure to the organization, what we're doing with the engine shop and everything," Busch said. "It's not that you'll find something and maybe get it fixed in a week. But we certainly wish we would have been able to get it done by now.

"I know [JGR head engine builder] Mark [Cronquist] is doing the best he can. The Toyota guys at [Toyota Racing Development] are trying to figure out what's going on. We'll work on it. That's all I can say. I really don't know what happened."

Hamlin's engine issues drop him 21st in the points standings. With Martinsville on the horizon -- a track Hamlin has dominated recently with three consecutive victories -- Hamlin isn't overly concerned about the four-position drop following Fontana. He just wants to put together a few strong finishes.

"It's too early [to worry about points]," Hamlin said. "We have to do everything we can at this point to get solid runs. Probably when I leave here I'll be 20-something in the points and I've been there after five races or so [before]. It's top 10 now, not top 12. We definitely need to get some solid finishes. We need to prove at this point we can finish a race. We've got some really good tracks coming up for us."