By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Both Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, two drivers in subject of silly season rumors all season, continue their string of top-five runs this summer after Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen.
Despite all talks involve on Kyle Busch being erased off both William Byron and Bubba Wallace’s Christmas list due to separate incidents and Martin Truex, Jr.’s second attempt of chasing down race winner Chase Elliott coming up short.
The other two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates had a quiet afternoon at Watkins Glen International in New York with Hamlin and Jones would finish third and fourth respectively. Each scoring their fourth straight top-five result and climbing up the regular season standings once more.
It’s the second time this season alone Hamlin has racked up four top-fives in succession, as the three-time winner had a top-10 car throughout the 90-lap race, including crossing the line second behind Elliott in Stage 1.
However, the Daytona 500 champion admitted not having enough speed of rivaling Truex and Elliott, who put on a tremendous show of their own once again at The Glen.
“We were just a couple tenths off each lap. They were just a little better. I fought the bus-stop all day, I was just a third-place car all weekend and it showed up by finishing third,” Hamlin on his performance. “We optimized the most we were going to get out of our Camry right there. Good day for JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) as a whole – two, three, four — 18 (Kyle Busch) we know was fast, but had issues. This keeps momentum for us, but just wish we were a little better. Overall, not bad.”
Jones (who started 14th) had a similar afternoon at the 2.45-mile circuit, a top-10 car that kept improving over time and it paid off with a fourth, one spot better than his personal best at Watkins Glen from a year ago, Jones’ wild card track.
“It’s good to keep it all going. Watkins Glen is kind of the wild card in there. Being a road course and everything, we’ve been on some tracks that have been really good to us and Watkins Glen has been good to us, but you still never know what can happen on strategy,” said Jones. “It worked out the best it really could. I made a mistake yesterday, we started too far back and just took us all day to get the DeWalt Camry up front. I felt like we had a fifth-place car all through practice and we were able to get a little better finish than that.
“It’s nice to keep that streak going and now going to two places – Michigan next week and then Bristol where I think we can win. We have some really good momentum behind us these months. You can’t keep running up in the top-five every week and not win a race. That’s what I keep telling myself and hopefully we can do it here soon.”
For Hamlin, he’s now fourth in the regular season standings, 80 points behind Kyle Busch. Although he’s a long shot of claiming the regular season title, which earns a driver 15 playoff points, Hamlin has felt the entire No. 11 FedEx Cares Toyota Camry squad have grown communication wise. It has shown as they’ve gained two spots in the standings during their ongoing summer streak.
“Just been better as a whole. Just communication getting better, everything is getting better,” Hamlin commented. “I’ve got a first-year crew chief (Chris Gabehart) that’s finding his feet right now and our communication is good. He’s showing up to the race track and bringing me a fast car. I’m driving them as hard as I can. It’s all working right now.”
Prior to Kentucky where the top-five streak began, Jones was 18th in points and questions of losing his ride to Xfinity Series star Christopher Bell in 2020 growing. Those rumors have become an afterthought as Jones will now be heading into the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan August 11 sitting 13th in points, 54 points above the playoff cutoff line with just four regular season races left.
Jones commented that his No. 20 DeWalt team is this close of being a contender for wins as he’s still searching for his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win as he’s one of five 2018 winners without cracking victory lane after 22 races.
“Real close. We’re right on the edge of that,” Jones explained. “We’re over a race up so we can definitely have a race where things don’t necessarily go our way, but we don’t want to get in a spot here with two races to go where we’re back in position where we have to really salvage points.
“We’ve done a great job this last month-and-a-half of carving our way back into it and really getting towards the top of the non-winners in the Playoff picture, which is a good feeling. Where we should be and where we belong – it’s nice to be up there. Points are off the mind a little bit more than they have been the last few weeks.”