A wrench in the works

Engine trouble has plagued whole Gibbs team this season

March 30, 2011|By George Diaz

Somebody call AAA.

Another car from Joe Gibbs Racing has broken down.

Except for Kyle Busch, the boys from JGR are sputtering around the track in need of a jump-start.

The team has dealt with engine problems in all five Cup races this season. Most recently, engine failures zapped Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin at Fontana. Logano's No. 20 Toyota needed a new engine because of valve leakage after the final practice. Hamlin's engine failed 105 laps into Sunday's race because of valve train issues.

Logano qualified third at Fontana but had to start at the back of the pack after switching engines. He finished 25th. Hamlin — last year's runner-up to Jimmie Johnson — dropped four slots to 21st in the latest Cup standings.

"We need to prove at this point we can finish a race," Hamlin said at Fontana. "We have to get these engine problems worked out."

It's quite the disconcerting ride for a team that won the most Cup races last season. This season, JGR's record includes three engine failures in races and three more engines needing to be replaced before a race started.

"Is there concern? Of course," Jimmy Makar, JGR's senior vice president of race operations, told ESPN.com. "We've had a lot more issues than we'd like to see, this early in the season especially. Probably the bigger issue is for the most part they are non-related. That makes things harder to figure out. If you had the same thing happening over and over again, you could focus on it."

Team officials didn't tweak much of anything after its successful run last season, making things that more disconcerting. Hamlin's engine was sent to Toyota Racing Development's home base in Costa Mesa, Calif., in hopes of figuring out what went wrong.

"For some reason, our staff is just struggling to keep it all together. I don't know why," Hamlin said. "I don't know what has changed in the offseason. I can't really speak upon that too much, so I don't know. It's not like, I don't think that we're going outside the box, by any means. I think we're just having some part failures."

Even Busch has struggled, having to end his run early in Las Vegas because of engine problems.

"It's not that you'll find something and maybe get it fixed in a week,'' Busch said. "But we certainly wish we would have been able to get it done by now."

gdiaz@tribune.com

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