NASCAR

Engine woes continue for JGR camp

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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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Joe Gibbs Racing suffered more than its fair share of engine troubles in the 2012 season. Well, after more engine woes Sunday at the Daytona 500, the folks at JGR have to wonder if they are snake-bit, because the failures happen with both their own engines and the ones they are getting from Toyota Racing Development.

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Go back to last year and look at the problems Kyle Busch had back in June, when engine troubles plagued him in three consecutive races. I promise you, I probably wouldn’t have handled it as diplomatically has he handled it. Now, fast forward to Sunday. The Toyota engines were bad fast in the Daytona 500. At one point late in the race, you had all three Joe Gibbs cars and all three Michael Waltrip Racing cars in the top six positions.

However, the downside to all that was only a few laps later, three of those six were done and out of the race. Kyle and new teammate Matt Kenseth were in the garage to be joined not much later by Clint Bowyer from Michael Waltrip Racing. You have to believe that those three engines that failed and even the three engines that didn’t are being gone over with a fine-tooth comb. Obviously they have to get to the bottom of what the heck is going on.

While they are obviously expected to be alarmed, you have to remember that the engines in a restrictor-plate race are a heck of a lot different than the ones that will be run this weekend on the 1-mile track in Phoenix and the 1-1/2 mile track a week later in Las Vegas.

While obviously engine troubles took three very competitive cars out of the equation for the finish of the Daytona 500, that also had a ripple effect on the three remaining cars. Both Denny Hamlin from JGR and Clint Bowyer from MWR got shuffled back. That left the lone Toyota of Mark Martin fending for himself near the front. Now sure, Mark did come home with an awesome third-place finish, but you are left to wonder “what might have been” if those other three Toyota’s had still been in the hunt.

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This weekend we are in Phoenix. Kyle had a great run there in the fall last year, starting from the pole and finishing third. If I am Coach Gibbs or J.D. Gibbs, I don’t think I would be setting Kyle down and promising him they’ll fix the problem. The reason why is simple. Just imagine how many times he heard that last year. If you start saying that again to him, I am pretty certain those words will fall on deaf ears.

Sure, falling out of the Daytona 500 hurt, but again, it’s only one race. That No. 18 car with Kyle behind the wheel ended the 2012 season on fire. The number of laps he led in the Chase is truly unbelievable. So the expectations that team has of itself this year are pretty high.

What they need to focus on is closing out the deal. Busch led a ton of laps and dominated races last season, but that M&Ms team didn’t have the wins to show for it. Again as we saw Sunday, they were bitten by something not of their own making. So I would not say anything to Kyle. Just go run the race at Phoenix and try to win it. Seriously, sometimes just not saying anything vs. patting someone on the back with the promise that everything will be OK is sometimes not what that person wants to hear.

As a group, all three JGR teams need to focus on Phoenix and Las Vegas next weekend because they always run well at both tracks. They were so strong and led so many laps at Daytona but really have nothing to show for it other than two cars in the garage and the other barely inside the top 15. It’s just not how any organization wants to start the 2013 season.

Tagged: Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip

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