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JGR slips from radar as others pile up wins

June 12, 2014, Kenny Bruce,

Bruce: No reason for Chase worries, but victories would be nice

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Jimmie Johnson wins back-to-back races, and the question is no longer when will he win, but when will he not?

Kevin Harvick continues to be tabbed as one of the few favorites each week, long before the No. 4 team rolls its latest piece off the truck.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is enjoying perhaps his best season since making the move to Hendrick Motorsports, already twice a winner and rarely off the pace.

Joey Logano is suddenly more than just a threat, four-time champ Jeff Gordon is a race winner and your points leader and Brad Keselowski seems to be intent on erasing the memory of last year’s failure to make the Chase.

Where in the midst of all these folks making their way to Victory Lane today are the Joe Gibbs Racing folks?


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Well, actually, they're right there. Right in the thick of the battle. Performing better in some ways than they were a year ago, but less so in others.

You want stats? Proof that the organization's three drivers -- Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin -- are running better? Or maybe not quite as well as a year ago?

Take them for what they're worth. The fortunes of a stock car team can change with the breeze. Just know that for now, heading into this weekend's stop at Michigan International Speedway, Kenseth is winless while Busch and Hamlin have a single win each. 

Two combined wins? Last year at this point the group already had five in the bag, more than one-third of the races run. 

Not everyone adapts to rule changes in the sport at the same pace, so maybe the teams of Kenseth, Busch and Hamlin are still searching for the sweet spot with respect to the setups of their cars. 

If they're behind, the gap is a small one. No one's been dominant thus far this year. Stacked up against the others, the Joe Gibbs bunch have held their own. 

There's no panic at JGR, and no reason for it. But as teams begin to work their way through the minefield of summer stops and get ready for the Chase, a few more trips to Victory Lane would no doubt sooth any concerns. 

That Kenseth, who won seven races last season, has yet to visit Victory Lane is perhaps the most puzzling. He's led multiple laps in eight of this year's races and was enjoying a short streak of back-to-back third-place finishes before last week's 25th-place result at Pocono

But other than Bristol, where his No. 20 Toyota ran out front for 165 of the race's 500 laps, he's hardly checked out on the competition in any one event. Consistency carried him into the points lead for a brief stay, but even he admitted a race win at this point would be more satisfying. 

Busch, a winner at Auto Club Speedway, led 125 or more laps in four of last year's first 13 races. He's been out front less often this season, and has only half as many top-five finishes.

While Hamlin's results have been spotty with only five top-10s, two of those have come in the No. 11 team's last two starts. Has his team turned the corner, or is it still in the middle of the curve?

They've run well enough, consistently enough, to find themselves in the top 10 in points, but points seem to mean so little these days. An organization that won consistently in the past has found the task a bit more difficult. 

They aren't the only ones, to be sure. But given past performances and current expectations, perhaps the most notable. 

It's likely that their respective Chase tickets are already waiting at the Will Call window in Richmond. But what fun is it to go to the prom if you don't get the chance to dance?


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