On Sunday night, the No. 19 pit crew won Carl Edwards the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. The over-the-wall work Joe Gibbs Racing is doing right now may also win them the Sprint Cup Series championship.
While some in the sport continues to believe that Gibbs has developed a new air gun or that they are pushing the new lug nut rules more than every other team, there is no doubt that JGR places a high amount of resources into the training and development of those that go over the wall.
Edwards was third at the time of the final caution with 11 laps to go and Hamlin wasn’t even in the top-5 — and yet they came out first and third respectively. Edwards won going away while Hamlin battled with Keselowski for second before ultimately settling for third.
Even though this is the competition package that Edwards has been lobbying for since 2008, he was quick to point out that his victory was a total team effort at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I feel like my pit crew ought to be sitting up here doing interviews,” Edwards said during his post victory press conference. “They won that race for us. It was just amazing to come down third and to go out leading the race.”
In fact, the No. 19 team alone executed six stops in 11 seconds or less, championship quality work from everyone associated with that operation.
Joe Gibbs himself has placed an organizational priority on pit stops since before last season but it really became apparent late last year when all three cars began blistering the rest of the field during cautions and green flag pit stops respectively.
“We spend a lot of time on it,” Gibbs said. “Obviously everybody in the sport does. Everyone realizes how important it is, and I think you’re battling up there tonight with all those teams have great pit crews.
“I think that’s an interesting part of our sport because it really is, it’s a lot like the other sport that I was in where you film things, you’re training all the time, you’ve got mandatory practice, and so I think it’s become a huge part of this sport, and I think it’s fun, and I think the fans like it too.
“You come on pit road, you don’t know what’s going to happen. I think that’s a great part of our racing because on a pit stop, a lot of things can happen. There can be penalties, you can have guys, great stops like we had tonight, and it’s the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat when you come on pit road, so I think it’s a big deal.”
Hamlin added that pit stops across the JGR board have gotten so exceptional in recent seasons that it actually gives the Toyota powerhouse a psychological advantage over the rest of the field each week.
“They picked me up a combined 30 or 40 spots throughout the night,” Hamlin said about his personal crew on Sunday night. “They carry us a lot of the time on restarts and get us the track position we need to handicap it until our cars come in.
“So it’s probably more of a psychological thing for the competition because they know that if they see me in the top-5 late in the race, they also know that we’re coming out with the lead if we have a late caution.”
That’s a huge advantage now that all four JGR cars have qualified for the Chase are expected to be contenders deep into the 10-race playoff. The case could be made that Joey Logano lost a chance at the championship last season when his car fell off the jack late in the race at Homestead.
The move dropped him from the lead pack to outside the top-20. So while every contending team has issues they need to sort out before the final 10 races, Gibbs can have faith that pit stops is not one of theirs.
“Yeah, I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to pass guys on pit road for me than to pass them on the racetrack,” Edwards said. “So I’m really proud of my guys. It’s just like Coach said, it’s an interesting part of the sport because man you’re just on that knife-edge.
“To perform that fast — my guys are just letting it all hang out and they’re able to do that, so I’m really happy to be involved with them, to be on the same team as them.”
EMAIL MATT AT firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN