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After disastrous finish to Daytona, team eyeing rebound at Phoenix

JGR ready to get back on road

Published: Friday, March 1, 2013 12:03 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP)
Matt Kenseth led the Daytona 500 for 86 laps Sunday before engine troubles forced him to pit road. His problems were just a harbinger for things to come for his JGR teammates.

Nobody is as eager to get to Phoenix this weekend as Joe Gibbs Racing, the team that can only view the Daytona 500 as a disaster.

JGR was running 1-2-3 at one point of "The Great American Race" and in prime position to put one of its drivers in Victory Lane. Instead, Matt Kenseth went to pit road with an engine issue after leading a race-high 86 laps. Kyle Busch followed him a few moments later.

Both could only watch in street clothes as Denny Hamlin tried to carry the JGR banner. He led three times for 33 laps, only to get stuck in the wrong lane in the closing laps and faded to a 14th-place finish.

It was a bitter outcome for the organization and for manufacturer Toyota, which had put a huge emphasis on the Daytona 500 and had all six of its factory cars running 1-through-6 at one point of the race.

In addition to Kenseth and Busch's engine woes, Michael Waltrip and Martin Truex Jr. didn't have full power at the end of the race.

As NASCAR moves into the desert for Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway, Kenseth said he believes JGR showed at Daytona it's a strong organization.

"Despite not getting the finish we deserved last weekend at Daytona, I'm really pleased with how our season began during Speedweeks," Kenseth said. "We had really fast cars, and our No. 20 team had great pit stops so I'm excited with how we ran at Daytona and really thankful to be part of this team. I'm just looking forward to getting to Phoenix and building upon what we have already started for this year."

It was Kenseth's first race with JGR after leaving Roush Fenway Racing, and he was seeking his third Daytona 500 title.

Busch's disappointment showed Sunday at Daytona. He'd won his qualifying race earlier in the week and thought he had a shot at winning his first Daytona 500.

"I'm glad to go back to a race track where drivers matter and car handling matters," he said. "The best way to get over the disappointment of the Daytona 500 is to get back in the car and have another chance at winning the next one. I wish the race was today, to be honest. I'm ready."

Busch has made no secret that 2012, when he won only once in all three of NASCAR's national series, was the worst season of his career. Because his temperament often overshadows his talent, he's earning a reputation as a driver who may never win a Sprint Cup title.

He said this week he's more determined than ever.

"I'm here to work hard and I'm here to win and bring home trophies and championships, that's what my ultimate dream is," he said. "I don't know whether it's the Lord upstairs just making me wait or what. Even if I did win one championship, I'm not done, I'm not leaving. I still want to win more. You still have that same hunger and drive to get as many as you can.

"It just plays out as it does, sometimes. Sometimes it's your year and sometimes it's not your year."

Subway Fresh Fit 500

Where: Avondle, Ariz.

When: Qualifying – 5 p.m. today; Race – 2 p.m. Sunday

TV: FOX

Track: Phoenix International Raceway (oval, 1.0 miles).

Race distance: 312 miles, 312 laps.

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