The Huntersville, North Carolina-based racing team placed three drivers in the top five of the Daytona 500 – winner Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch (third) and Carl Edwards (fifth). Matt Kenseth (14th) led 40 laps until Hamlin forced him up the track on the race’s final go-around. Martin Truex Jr. of JGR technical partner Furniture Row Racing finished second.
Since Kyle Busch’s victory at Kentucky in July of last year, JGR has won 11 of the last 20 NSCS races. Don’t expect Gibbs’ fearsome foursome of drivers to slow down in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FOX) where NASCAR will debut its 2016 lower downforce aerodynamics package.
The 2016 aero package is similar, although not identical to the one used at Kentucky and Darlington last season – two races that JGR excelled in. Busch won at Kentucky last year, followed by Hamlin in third, Edwards in fourth and Kenseth in fifth. At Darlington, Edwards won, Hamlin took third and Busch placed seventh.
Lowering the downforce makes the car harder to handle, which increases the importance of driver skill and the potential for passing.
“We’ve been working on this package since last year when we ran (a similar one) at a handful of races, so I feel good about where we’re at coming into the weekend,” said Kenseth, who has never won at Atlanta, but owns the top average finish (8.6) and third-best driver rating (97.9) among active drivers there.
The most likely JGR driver to win on Sunday is Edwards. He leads the Gibbs quartet with three wins at AMS and has posted a top-five finish in nine of his 18 starts at the 1.54-mile track.
“I enjoy the worn out pavement a lot,” Edwards said about the Hampton, Georgia, speedway. “The paving company who can figure out how to mimic that with new pavement, that would be really cool. When the pavement is old and worn out and has character, it just makes the racing so much fun. Atlanta is like that. It’s just perfect racing.”
Hamlin won at Atlanta in 2012 and Busch took the checkered flag there in 2013. Hamlin ranks fourth among active drivers with a 97.2 driver rating at Atlanta while Busch claims the fourth-best average finish there (15.9).
“It’s going to be a crazy race,” Busch said. “There are going to be cars sliding all over the place. It’s a unique race track by itself without a low-downforce package, but it’s going to be even more so this year with the way the aero rules are.
“Restarts are hectic, groove changes are crazy, and having less aero on the race car – I think – is going to lead to more driver-crew-chief-type relationships, the better ones, to showcase their talents.”