1993: Bill Clinton had just moved into the White House, email was technology’s shiny new toy, and Jeff Gordon was a Winston Cup rookie. That same year, Dale Jarrett won the Daytona 500, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing (if you have a few minutes, here are the final laps on youtube). JGR hadn’t had a Dayton 500 winning car since: not Bobby Labonte, not Tony Stewart, not Kyle Busch.
Denny Hamlin changed that Sunday. Whatever the Great American Race lacked in drama up to that point was more than made up for when Hamlin’s 11 edged the 78 of Martin Truex Jr by .010 of a second. What a finish! Best of all, we were spilled a 12 car pile-up that usually accompanies the finish of restrictor plate races. I don’t know about you, but considering the mess we had at the Sprint Unlimited, I will happily take this, as I’m sure all the owners and mechanics will too.
For Hamlin, this follows his victory at the Unlimited, giving the 2010 NSCS championship a nice springboard into the 2016 campaign. Success at Daytona does not portend seasonal strength, but it sure gives the winner a nice boost of confidence considering what wins here did for Joey Logano last year or Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014. Hambone is a winner, so one would tend to think this victory is no anomaly.
What’s more Sunday’s race was a great day for Toyota- taking four of the top five spots- and for Joe Gibbs Racing. Matt Kenseth appeared to have a win in the bag until he made contact with Hamlin. While a 14th place finish pales in comparison to winning, give Matty Ice credit for hanging on to his piece an not triggering a disaster. Defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch finished third and Carl Edwards- the most recent addition to Joe Gibbs Racing- placed fifth. It was a great day to be the Coach.
While plate track racing is a different animal than it is at the intermediates the dot much of NASCAR landscape, it gives Joe Gibbs Racing a nice shot of confidence, knowing they game planned this race properly, and knowing that same brain trust oversees what lies ahead. There are so many things that go into a race win, even a little bit of blind luck. At the same time, the more this old bird follows sports of all kinds, at all levels, the more he becomes convinced of the role of confidence in making a winner.
Joe Gibbs Racing has it. They can also look forward to Atlanta with anticipation; this is the site of Toyota’s first win in the Sprint Cup Series with Kyle Busch at the wheel. Rowdy has delivered two victories at Atlanta for JGR, and Hamlin was a winner at AMS in 2012.
Notice has been served. Joe Gibbs Racing is back for more in 2016.