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Kenseth’s victory at Loudon reaffirms Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance

  • Matt Kenseth (20) celebrates his win with his crew and family in victory lane following Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Matt Kenseth (20) holds up the trophy after winning Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Matt Kenseth (20) celebrates his win with his crew and family in victory lane following Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Confetti fills the air after Matt Kenseth (20) won Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Matt Kenseth (20) takes turn one during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Fans walk around the pit area before the start of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Pit crews work on vehicles during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Kyle Busch (18) holds an early lead during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Matt Kenseth (20) maintains a lead as Joey Logano (22) and Tony Stewart (14) fight for second place in the final laps of the New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday. Kenseth, Stewart and Logano finished 1-2-3, respectively. BELOW: Kenseth celebrates the win. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Matt Kenseth (20) celebrates his win with his crew and family in victory lane following Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Confetti shaped like the Granite State flies following Matt Kenseth’s win in Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Matt Kenseth celebrates a win in Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 with his crew and family in Victory Lane with the prize lobster at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The prize lobster is given to the winner of Sprint Cup races in Loudon. The tradition started in 2010. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Alex Bowman (88), driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr., comes out of turn one during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Kyle Busch (18) leads Jimmie Johnson (48) during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Denny Hamlin (11) comes around turn one and two during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Joey Logano (22) took second during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Jimmie Johnson (48) leads Martin Truex Jr. (78) during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Martin Truex Jr. (78) competes in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Carl Edwards (19) competes in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scenes from Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Kevin Harvick (4) competes in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, July 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Sunday, July 17, 2016

LOUDON – They’re only three letters. But they provide the key to what’s helped Joe Gibbs Racing leave the racing world flummoxed through a year-and-a-half run as NASCAR’s most powerful team.

“Our Toyotas are really fast. I can’t point to one thing,” driver Carl Edwards said Friday. “I think overall it’s TRD ... all the folks that do this and us teammates working together that give us those results.”

TRD is Toyota Racing Development, the division that works with Gibbs to crank out the high-powered vehicles the team’s drivers have steered to a Sprint Cup championship and a whopping 20 victories in the last 40 races. Team Penske has been hot. Stewart-Haas Racing has picked up wins. But there’s no question about which team has become NASCAR’s juggernaut, even though the Ford and Chevy teams still look for an answer.

As Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway proved, they have a long way to go.

Gibbs earned its eighth win of the season when Matt Kenseth drove his No. 20 Dollar General car to victory at the New Hampshire 301 – though a failed Laser Inspection Station post-race investigation will likely cost the 44-year-old points in the standings.

Aside from the checkered flag, the results weren’t stellar for the four-car fleet. Six cautions in the final 80 laps jostled and jumbled the field, leaving Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin with eighth- and ninth-place finishes, respectively. Edwards took 20th. Martin Truex Jr., a Toyota-driving Gibbs ally out of Furniture Row Racing, settled for 16th.

A closer look at the numbers, however, reveals a day of dominance. In a 301-lap race, Toyotas led 299 go-arounds. Busch, Truex and Kenseth each opened massive leads, with Busch opening a 9.5-second advantage over the closest non-Toyota – Penske’s Brad Keselowski – 200 laps into the event

Late cautions saved the rest of the field and made the race close – and still, Toyota and Gibbs were best in show again.

“I think all the JGR cars and the 78 car (Truex) were really good today,” said Jason Ratcliff, Kenseth’s crew chief. “I think any one of those guys could have won this race. ... Our cars are where they need to be right now.”

It’s been the story throughout the Sprint Cup schedule, but perhaps nowhere more emphatically than the Magic Mile. The Gibbs and Toyota partnership has won the last three races at Loudon, with Busch winning last July and Kenseth winning in September. They’ve won six of the last eight Xfinity Series contests, including the last two.

“It seems like this is one of our better tracks,” Ratcliff said. “We always look forward to coming here. It’s been a track that’s not only good for the team, but obviously good for Matt.”

And Sunday, the only question was which Toyota would be best. There were two cautions through the first 219 laps, and with opportunities to condense the field scarce, there was no stopping the Toyota machines from making a mockery of the competition.

Busch led the first 35 laps. Truex passed him, then Busch got the lead back and led the next 51. Truex passed him again and led the next 83. On it went until lap 257, with Busch or Truex pacing all but one of the laps. Their teammates were close behind on the board, if not on the track. At one point, the top five cars were all Toyotas.

“We’ve got a great race team. We’ve got great race cars and great people. It starts with the boss here next to me,” Kenseth said. “Once you get those guys up front, they’re hard to get out of there. They’re going to be out there leading races and you’re going to have to be just right to beat them.”

The field got the chance it needed with a frenzied stretch of five cautions in 66 laps, starting on the 220th. Cars that were in danger of being lapped – eventual third-place finisher Joey Logano had only the length of the straightaway separating himself from a gaining Truex midway through the race – were able to close the gap, and the ensuing restarts raised doubt for the first time about the ability of the Toyota drivers to secure a win it seemed impossible they could lose.

Bad luck befell the leaders. Truex’s clutch and transmission failed him going into a caution on lap 265 for debris, and he sank from sixth to 17th when racing resumed. Busch was nicked in heavy traffic on turn 2 after a restart for the 291st lap and couldn’t recover. Meanwhile, Logano and Tony Stewart, way back outside of the top 15 earlier, saw themselves with the dust settled dueling for second down the stretch.

Considering the way the earlier part of the afternoon had gone, Logano couldn’t believe it.

“We went from sixth to 20th or so pretty quick early in the race,” he said. “I never thought the two of us would be racing for second at the end of the race like that.”

All along, however, first place was off limits. Hamlin had the lead for four laps before Kenseth took over for good at lap 271, navigating the restart commotion that felled his comrades.

“It’s definitely somewhat stressful to go through all those restarts,” he said. “Thankfully I didn’t mess one of them up and we were able to get a few clean laps and get away a little bit.

“I felt like we had probably the best car all day. It just took forever to get there.”

It wasn’t the car or the driver any of the patrons at Loudon would have pegged for Victory Lane throughout most of the race. But it was certainly the team. Another summer trip to Loudon showed keeping up with JGR and TDR is just as hard as ever.

“When you hear the drivers and the crew chiefs, the way they work, I love that aspect of it,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “I think we’ve got guys that really share everything in the team meetings. It’s a total team effort, and it goes back to the character of these guys.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340, abonifant@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @dbonifant.)