Only one of the four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers had a reason to smile after Monday’s rescheduled NASCAR Cup series race at Dover Motor Speedway.
Christopher Bell could smile after his fourth-place finish, but even that came after a very rough day. Bell was among the top contenders early in the race finishing third in Stage 1. But just after the field took the green to start Stage 2, Bell reported a possible loose wheel and was forced to pit under green. He came back out 32nd two laps down. He spent the rest of the race fighting his way back to score the top-5 finish.
“Very, very frustrating to have those issues and get put behind,” Bell said. “I feel like if we could have stayed up front we could have possibly contended for the win. We were able to get back up there in that third stage, and I’ll take it. I’m really proud of this 20 group.”
Denny Hamlin had more than a loose wheel to deal with. He led a total of 67 laps and won Stage 1. But his wheel come off exiting the pits after the Stage 1 stop and he came back out deep in the field. He fought his way back however and was running fourth when Cody Ware spun on the frontstretch on lap 241 and slid down into Hamlin.
“I just can’t believe this, man,” Hamlin said to his Joe Gibbs Racing team on his in-car radio during the Stage 2 break as his crew repaired his No. 11 Toyota.
“A lug nut came out of the gun, and we did not know it until it was too late, obviously,” No. 11 crew chief Chris Gabehart told Hamlin over the radio after the incident. “It is what it is.”
With a heavily damaged Toyota Hamlin finished 21st one lap down. Despite winning at Richmond, Hamlin has not had a top-10 finish all season long. This time last season Hamlin had eight top-10s and was leading the points. He leaves Dover 23rd in the standings, 214 points out of first place.
“Everybody showed a lot of speed today,” Gabehart said on the No. 11 radio during the cool-down lap. “This is what we’re capable of. We’ve just gotta get hot when it matters. We know what we’ve got. Get ready to go at the next one.”
Worse yet Hamlin will probably be without crew chief Chris Gabehart and a couple of crew members all of whom will likely be suspended for the next four races as a result of the lost wheel.
With the race rescheduled to Monday, Kyle Busch was looking to go three for three on this birthday. He won on May 2, his birthday, at Richmond in 2009, and last season on the same date at Kansas.
Busch led the most laps on the day, 103, and nearly won Stage 2, finishing second to Ryan Blaney.
But he was the victim of an ill-timed caution that came near the start of green flag stops. On lap 322 just has he pitted from the lead with his nearest rival Alex Bowman close behind, a loose wheel off the car of AJ Allmendinger who had just pitted, forced NASCAR to throw the yellow. Busch restarted 16th, Bowman 17th. Busch tried to rally but ran out of laps and finished seventh. Bowman was able to come home fifth.
“Just a bummer day for us,” Bowman said. “Obviously we had a shot at the win there in our No. 48 Ally Chevrolet; and then that caution in the middle of the pit cycle had us starting the last run last. To go last to fifth at a place like this is nothing to be ashamed of because it’s hard to pass.”
Busch left the track without comment.
The last disappointment on the day for Gibbs came from Martin Truex Jr. He was fighting for third with Ross Chastain in the closing laps. On the final lap however, Truex tried to make the pass on Chastain on the high side as the two headed towards Turn 3. Chastain moved to block and The Toyota of Truex was sent spinning down into the backstretch wall.
Chastain finished third, Truex 12th. The two drivers had a brief conversation on pit road after the race.
“We were talking about where we were going to go fishing next week,” Chastain joked when asked what they had talked about.
Like his teammate, Truex left the track without further comment.
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