Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Are JGR Engine Woes a Concern or Bad Luck?

1. Engine Problems at Joe Gibbs Racing. Fluke or Cause for Worry?

Had Christopher Bell not had an engine issue at World Wide Technology Raceway, odds are good that he’d have left with a win. While it’s not clear how well Denny Hamlin would have run at Sonoma Raceway, you’d have to imagine the No. 11 would have been a factor if not for an expired engine in the opening laps.

As far as postseason spots go, neither Bell nor Hamlin are in danger of missing the cut. But drivers like Ty Gibbs and Martin Truex Jr. are not yet locked in with a win, and if neither collects a race win between now and Daytona International Speedway in late August, they run the risk of a tightrope walk. That’s something that could come down to whether or not a finish of 35th or worse happens.

That’s why this week could be key to drivers not just at Joe Gibbs Racing, but any others trying to race their way into the postseason. It was revealed after Gateway that a broken valve spring caused Bell’s car to fade late, costing him a win.

Was it a similar issue to what caused Hamlin’s engine to be one of the terminal nature? That’s clearly something being looked into this week by the Toyota Racing Development engine brain trust.

The bottom line is this: If there’s an issue with the TRD engines, it needs to be nipped in the bud now before it’s more costly down the road.

See also
Sonoma: The Race JGR Would Like to Forget

2. Did Iowa Just Equalize The Field With Its Unique Repave?

More often than not, any thought of a repave leads to thoughts of less-than-thrilling racing. For various reasons, racecars going side-by-side on new asphalt early does not happen as much. Yes, speeds are higher, but the time needed to age the track typically does not set in instantly.

There are obvious exceptions like this past weekend in Sonoma and Atlanta Motor Speedway’s reconfiguration, but it’s hard not to fear a race of single-file completion at Iowa Speedway given the combo of a kind of new surface and NASCAR’s short-track package.

In a roundabout way, the recent Iowa repave — with some of the track repaved — may turn everyone’s plan on its head.

Remember how the Goodyear tires at Bristol Motor Speedway created an element of unknown and forced crew chiefs to adjust on the go and drivers to adapt as well? That’s what this repave could do. Remember, lots of drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series raced at Iowa in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Craftsman Truck Series. With the adjustment to the race surface, Iowa may have, for one year at least, leveled the playing field.

3. Winning the Best medicine for Kyle Larson, No. 5 Team

Once the needlessly lengthy wait to see whether or not Kyle Larson would receive a playoff waiver ended, the challenge for Larson continued. The task? To turn the page between a week or so of a chance to run for a title being in doubt.

For sure, it helped Larson to get back to a normal regimen by testing at Iowa and then running the next race at Gateway. Even more normalcy came on Sunday (June 9) with Larson holding serve over the field to pick up the win.

If there was any outside noise impacting things for the No. 5 team, it certainly didn’t show it. That all goes back to crew chief Cliff Daniels “keeping the main thing the main thing,” so to speak.

If Larson and Daniels can stay locked in coming out of a strenuous two-week span, they’ll be even tougher to overcome in the postseason.

4. Will Joey Logano Strike On A New Surface Again?

Of all the drivers in the Cup Series needing a win to lock up a postseason spot, few drivers are likely as excited about a new venue or surface than Joey Logano.

Let’s take a glance at the recent history of Logano. Not only did Logano win in the Cup debut at Gateway, but he did the same in the first Busch Light Clash at the LA Coliseum and this past May at a repaved North Wilkesboro Speedway.

This past weekend at Sonoma, for good measure, Logano started from the pole position.

For whatever reason, Logano and the No. 22 team seem to have something figured on when NASCAR goes to a new track or surface to race on. That’s why by the time the checkered flag flies at Iowa, it’d be a surprise not to see Logano near the front of the field.

See also
Xfinity Breakdown: Shane van Gisbergen Goes 2-for-2 Out West With Sonoma Win

5. Could Saturday’s Xfinity Celebration Unwittingly Birth A New Rule?

Oh yes, Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity finish at Sonoma. Not only did Shane van Gisbergen bag the win, but he also outdueled Austin Hill on the way to another road-course triumph.

The bigger story, however, may have come after the race. As it turned out, van Gisbergen’s burnout not only delighted fans, but it also came directly in front of Hill, who let’s say told the New Zealander that he was…No. 1 on the scoring pylon.

If you don’t like Hill, chances are pretty good you thought that was entertaining. Still, it raises the question of safety.

What if a would-be driver decides to go all Russ Wheeler in Days of Thunder while they are celebrating? How about a celebration inadvertently creating a smoke show if a driver is not yet off the track?

It’s not something to penalize anyone for, but it may not be a bad reminder for a driver’s meeting reminder for victory celebrations to be about the race winner, not a time for petty jabs.

About the author

Brad joined Frontstretch.com in 2020 and contributes to the site's 5 Points To Ponder column and other roles as needed. A graduate of the University of Georgia's Henry W. Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communication, he has covered sports in some capacity for more than 20 years with coverage including local high school sports, college athletics and minor league hockey. Brad has received multiple awards for his work from the Georgia Press Association.

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I hope they are a concern because Hamlin is going to be tough to beat in the championship race at Phoenix. I honestly hope he chokes and doesn’t make the final 4 because his car is so good there.


Has 23XI or Legendary had any engine problems this year? Aren’t all of the Toyota engines coming out of TRD? If so then it’s just bad luck, or good luck for all of us that like to see Hamlin suffer.

I’m afraid there’s a good chance Iowa will be another single file parade.

I for one don”t really care for burnouts, or smashing watermelons, climbing fences or just about any of the other silly celebrations that every winner needs to perform these days. While I’m not a Blaney fan, I do wish more drivers would show the same class that he does by just doing a victory lap and saluting the fans.

Carl D.

Or Austin Dillon making snow angels in the tri-oval grass…. 🙄


Wasn’t Dillons celebration ridiculous lololol certainly glad we don’t have to ever see that again.

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