By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
One is the loneliest number for Joe Gibbs Racing after Sunday’s running of the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The powerhouse organization entered the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with three legitimate shots at a title run with Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, but as the first round of the playoffs reached its conclusion this past weekend, both Jones and Hamlin met an early end to their postseason.
With subpar runs in the first two races of the round at Las Vegas and Richmond, both drivers found themselves sitting 21 and 29 points below the cut line, respectively, entering the inaugural race on the 17-turn, 2.28-mile road course and needed a spotless weekend from start to finish for any hope of being able to transfer.
The exact opposite happened. From the start of the weekend, both drivers ran into trouble and the hits just kept on coming in the days to come.
Hamlin first ran into trouble on Friday with multiple incidents in practice and qualifying in the backstretch chicane, eventually resulting in enough damage to his primary car to warrant the team rolling out the backup car for Saturday’s two practice sessions and the main event on Sunday.
As for Jones, the first of those two Saturday practice sessions was D-Day for him and the No. 20 team as the backstretch chicane came calling once more.
Jones got slightly off-line through the chicane and was unable to get his cars corrected in time to make the corner, leading to the heavy contact with the tire barrier. The contact launched all four wheels off the ground and Jones then tagged the outside SAFER barrier in NASCAR Turn 3.
Like Hamlin, he was forced to a backup car for the remainder of the weekend.
Once the green flag flew on Sunday, things didn’t get much better for the two drivers. Both had issues with tires at some point during the race, as well as getting knocked around and suffering damage to their cars.
Hamlin wound up finishing 12th, but he was in a must-win position and found himself eliminated. Likewise for Jones, who finished 30th, one lap down.
“It’s unfortunate, you get put three-wide and there’s only so much you can do as a driver,” said Jones. “It’s too bad and we’ll have to move on from here and get ready for next year. You hate to be knocked out of the Playoffs this early, but it is what it is.
“It was a good year, but we just didn’t have a good first round. We didn’t finish in the top-10 in any races and that’s not going to get you to the next round. Some circumstances we couldn’t help, but we just need to get it better.”
Now for JGR, Kyle Busch, who has won seven races this season, remains the only bullet left in the gun, with Toyota as a whole down to just Busch and Martin Truex, Jr.