When Joe Gibbs Racing arrived in Dover, Del., they had three great chances to take home the checkered flag. When they left, they had three drivers that have never been happier to head to Kansas.
Sunday at the Monster Mile, all three of JGR’s cars finished outside the top 20 and two of their drivers lost their fight with the monster’s high banks.
Things got off to a rough start on Friday when Denny Hamlin didn’t hide the fact that he didn’t like Dover. As the only JGR car in the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Hamlin arrived at one of his worst tracks and knowing he had a long weekend ahead of him.
The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota only had two top 10s in seven starts at Dover heading into the weekend.
“I’ll be glad when Monday comes," he told the media on Friday.
From there he went out and qualified in the 13th position. Teammate Kyle Busch, who has had success at Dover in the past, qualified 15th, and rookie teammate Joey Logano went out and bested them both by qualifying 11th for the Sunday event.
Logano was the one that started the party on lap 32; going down the backstretch, it appeared Logano had to check up because of Bobby Labonte in front of him. The chain reaction caused Tony Stewart, running behind Logano, to send the No. 20 car down in the turn-three grass.
Logano’s car then shot back up onto the track and hit head-on in the turn-three wall, collecting Reed Sorenson, Martin Truex Jr., and Robby Gordon. Contact from those cars pushed Logano’s car and sent him barrel rolling about seven times before coming to rest on the apron.
He walked away unhurt but shaken.
“It was the wildest ride I’ve ever been on,” he said. “It just really scared the heck out of me...it started rolling, and I was there thinking, ‘Man, just make this thing stop.’ It wouldn’t. It just kept going and going. It goes to show how safe these cars are. I was fine.”
Logano was credited with a 42nd place finish.
Miles the Monster, though, was just getting warmed up.
Next came Kyle Busch and his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Camry. Busch has been solid at Dover, with two straight second-place finishes back in 2005 when driving for Hendrick Motorsports and a win in the June race last year for JGR.
He seemed to be on his way to another top-10 day as he ran steadily with the leaders for much of the race before Miles struck again.
Just past the 100-lap mark, Busch scraped the wall after having a tire go down that brought him to pit road, causing him to lose a lap. It was the least of his problems, though, as he told his team that the tire might blow again because he felt things were bent on the car.
On lap 207, Busch’s green machine pancaked the right side and rode the wall from turn two, down the backstretch, and into turn three before Busch drove it behind the wall for repair work. He later returned to the race and was caught with speeding on pit road, to which he light heartedly replied “Nahhhhh. No way.”
His day ended with a 31st-place finish.
“We cut down a tire twice today and each time ended up in the wall,” said Busch. “The second time we hit hard enough that we had to go to the garage and fix it. We’ve got to figure out why it happened and make sure we correct it. It’s disappointing for all these guys.”
Not to be left out, the monster must have felt hurt that Hamlin didn’t want to be in his presence, who made no bones about not liking or running well at the concrete mile.
Hamlin never suffered any damage but spent much of the day running between 15th and 20th place and eventually went a lap down, then two. The No. 11 team could never get the handle of their Toyota where it needed to be and were visibly slower than most.
After a long 400 miles, Hamlin could only muster a 22nd-place finish, two laps behind the leaders. Unfortunately for him, the bad day didn’t help his championship hopes. After entering third in points, he left as one of the lowest finishing Chasers and now sits sixth in points, over 100 markers out of first.
The good news for Hamlin and the rest of Joe Gibbs Racing is that they won’t have to see the monster for another year. Unless he haunts their dreams, of course.