By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas — There was a bit of a rift between the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates after last week’s finish in Martinsville. In the closing laps, Jimmie Johnson held the lead, but there was a trio of JGR cars chasing him for the win.
Matt Kenseth had been the dominant driver all day long in Martinsville as he led a race-high 176 laps, but he found himself trapped behind his teammate Denny Hamlin in the closing laps. Hamlin was fast on Sunday as well, as he had led a total of 48 laps, so he refused to just pull over and let Kenseth chase Johnson.
Johnson’s win helped him punch a ticket to the Championship race in Homestead, which essentially means that at least one Joe Gibbs Racing car will eventually be eliminated from contention. For a set of drivers, who had the goal of all getting to Homestead with a shot at the championship this didn’t sit well.
Reportedly in an effort to ease tension between the drivers, Joe Gibbs Racing called a driver’s only meeting this week. Kenseth was a little testy about the information leak about their secret meeting when asked about it in his media availability.
“Well if it was drivers only, I don’t know who reported it. It wasn’t me,” Kenseth quipped. “We have meetings every Tuesday and we have meetings, depending on the race weekend when we’re done with final practice. We all get together a lot and we communicate besides that at separate times. We have meetings.”
Despite reports about the meeting being out of the ordinary, all of JGR’s drivers said it was part of their weekly meeting procedure. Regardless, it does seem that the meeting did do a world of good, as the drivers were all united in supporting their fellow teammates in media availabilities on Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I’ve got great teammates. All of us have worked really, really well all year at raising each other’s level of performance so we’ll just continue to work as hard as we can like we’ve been doing but then we race each other really hard at the race track too,” said Carl Edwards. “We’re all competitors. Once the green flag drops we all know how to race each other, but I don’t think anything obviously will change at least for the next few races.”
Kenseth would go on to say that the current roster of drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing are definitely the best set of teammates he’s ever had in his racing career.
“I think our teamwork at Joe Gibbs Racing is second to none. I’ve had a lot of great teammates, none any better than what I have now, that’s for sure,” said Kenseth. “Everybody is really, really competitive and wants to win. Our goal was to have four cars at Homestead and now there’s only three spots left. Every week we talk about what we can do to help each other, and make things better but we also realize when they drop the green, it’s one against 39 and have to get the best finish we can for our respective teams.”
Kyle Busch was the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver who talked to the media on Friday, who admitted that there was a problem between the drivers after Martinsville. But according to Busch, they have all talked and things are groovy again at JGR.
“This [Chase] format lends itself to a different situation than in years past and maybe I was expecting a little bit different in that then what transpired in the race, but we talked – forgive and forget and move on and here we are,” Busch explained.
Is everything really alright in the Gibbs camp? Only time will tell, but for now all of the drivers are saying the right things.