Gibbs Racing challenges for NASCAR supremacy

Even Hendrick tips hat to top Sprint Cup competition

May 12, 2010|By Tania Ganguli

Humility is part of NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick's demeanor, at least outwardly. He leaves hyperbole to everybody else who talks about him and his team.

They use it liberally.

Hendrick, though, is quick to credit other teams and the job they have done. He talks about "being competitive" rather than being on top and repeated that sentiment to reporters Tuesday in Charlotte at the opening of NASCAR's Hall of Fame.

"The problem is you have things that are out of your control," Hendrick said. "Mechanical, or you're not as sharp with the spoiler as someone else is. And then luck has a big part of it. Nobody's going to stay on top forever. All I want to do is be competitive."

There might be a little truth to that this time around.

Not only has Denny Hamlin won three of the last six races — including the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington on Saturday — Hamlin's team, Joe Gibbs Racing, has won three of the last four Sprint Cup races.

Meanwhile, bad luck hammered Hendrick's flagship team at Darlington.

A week after losing the points lead, Jimmie Johnson struggled and Hamlin tied him for victories. Johnson's race ended on Lap 179 after he wrecked with A.J. Allmendinger. And as Johnson's team packed up early and left, its major challenger for the title became a little stronger. "It's still so early in the season," Hamlin said Saturday night. "We have got a lot of racing left to do before the Chase starts. … I'm sure there's no cause for panic on their side. For us, we're just winning races."

But it's not too early for JGR to have announced itself as a true competitor to Hendrick Motorsports for the championship. Kyle Busch, in third place, only trails Johnson by three points.

Sure, points leader Kevin Harvick, who drives for Richard Childress Racing, has garnered top 10s in the last four races. But Johnson's misfortune has extended Harvick's points lead.

The Gibbs' momentum speaks louder.

We still haven't seen what Busch can do if he avoids a late-season meltdown. We still don't know how much better Hamlin can get once his surgically repaired knee stops hurting.

"We've been really lucky," Hendrick said Tuesday. "There are a lot of good teams and it's going to be a real dogfight if we're going to get it all."

tganguli@tribune.com

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