Triumph and tragedy for Joe Gibbs Racing at Homestead

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 22: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota, is escorted by the American Medical Response (AMR) safety crew to the garage area after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 4EVER 400 Presented by Mobil 1 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 22, 2023 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

While Christopher Bell celebrated his win at Homestead-Miami Speedway Sunday that locked him into the Championship 4, two other Joe Gibbs drivers saw their championship hopes take big hits.

And it all happened on the same lap.

On lap 237, Denny Hamlin was battling Ryan Blaney when something broke on his Toyota entering Turn 1 sending him hard into the wall. Up until that point Hamlin had been in contention for the win finishing Stage 1 sixth and Stage 2 fourth.

Hamlin later said he himself wasn’t sure what had happened.

“We tried and it just didn’t work out,” he said. “Unfortunate for this Sport Clips Toyota team. We really battled back well today – just a tough break.”

During the caution for Hamlin’s crash, Martin Truex Jr., deeper in the field, had an engine blow up on the same lap. Truex had started from the pole and finished Stage 1 fifth and Stage 2 sixth.

A disappointed Truex declined to comment after the race, and his crew chief James Small wasn’t sure what had happened.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I think something in the valve train maybe…There was oil and everywhere. So I’ll find out and hopefully they have a good explanation.”

Both cars ended up in the garage and both drivers head to Martinsville below the cutoff and will most likely need to race for the win to make the final 4.

Team owner Joe Gibbs later said it shows just how hard it is to race in NASCAR.

“We had such a disappointment with the 11, Denny, cutting a tire down,” he said. “I felt like he was fast. Martin qualified on the pole. I thought we had a chance with that car.

“A series of circumstances, then lose the motor. Shows you how hard the sport is because those were the two cars for a while for us that were up front.

“It also shows you that in sports, particularly in our sport, the 20 (Christopher Bell) was an example of just never giving up, just keep fighting. I mean, it went all the way to the second stage where you don’t really think that car is going to make much of a dent in things.”

Greg Engle