JGR’s engine problems continue at Fontana

Another race, another set of engine problems for Joe Gibbs

Racing.

Joey Logano had to swap out engines before Sunday’s race at Auto

Club Speedway and Denny Hamlin lasted only half the race before his

gave out, making it five straight races with engine problems for

JGR. Fontana and Joey Logano had to swap out engines before it

started.

”For some reason, our stuff is just struggling to keep it all

together. I don’t know why,” Hamlin said. ”I don’t know what’s

changed in the offseason. I can’t really speak upon that too much,

so I don’t know. It’s not like, I don’t think that we’re going

outside the box, by any means. I think we’re just having some part

failures.”

JGR problems started with a fire at its engine shop in January,

and all three of its drivers have had issues at least once this

season.

Hamlin seemed ready to put his multitude of breakdowns behind

him this weekend, qualifying second and leading 15 laps early while

posting the fastest lap time in the 400-mile race at Auto Club

Speedway.

Things quickly unraveled around Lap 80, when engine issues sent

him shooting toward the back of the field. Hamlin went a lap down

by the race’s midpoint and the team had to wheel his No. 11 car off

the track toward the garage after 105 laps. He finished 39th.

After changing engines at Daytona and Las Vegas, this latest

breakdown was tough to swallow.

”We lost some power early on in the day when we started

dropping positions. We didn’t know exactly what it was,” Hamlin

said. ”Obviously, it was another engine failure. It’s frustrating,

from my standpoint.”

Logano also had a tough early start to the season, losing an

engine at Phoenix and suffering a broken wheel at Bristol, not to

mention a carburetor problem discovered at the shop later. He also

seemed to have put his bad luck behind him by qualifying third at

Fontana.

That, too, quickly changed before the race, when Logano was

forced to switch engines for his No. 20 car and was sent to the

back of the pack.

Logano rapidly worked his way up to get inside the top 20, but

couldn’t move forward after that, finishing 25th.

Even Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 151 laps and finished third

at Fontana, hasn’t been able to escape the JGR engine woes, losing

one at Las Vegas on March 6.

”Obviously, it’s unfortunate and a big blow, I’m sure, to the

organization with what we’re doing in the engine shop,” Busch

said. ”It’s not that you’ll find something that you’ll maybe get

it fixed in a week, but you certainly wish we’d have gotten it done

now.”

DILLON’S DEBUT: Richard Childress’ grandson will make his Sprint

Cup debut this season.

NASCAR trucks driver Austin Dillon will drive the No. 98

Curb-Agajanian Chevrolet at a race to be announced later. The car

will be sponsored by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation’s

Centennial Celebration and the Childress Institute for Pediatric

Trauma.

”President Reagan was always one of my grandfather’s heroes, so

I grew up hearing about the president’s strong leadership abilities

and family values,” Dillon said. ”Those are two qualities I carry

with me in my career as a NASCAR driver by being a strong leader

for my team and making my family proud of my accomplishments on and

off the track.”

Dillon, who turns 21 in April, was the 2010 trucks rookie of the

year after finishing fifth and setting a first-year record with

seven poles.

The start will be the 100th for co-owner Mike Curb, who helped

reunite Childress with Dale Earnhardt, a tandem that went on to win

67 races and six series championships together.

FONTANA FUTURE: Due to sagging attendance, Auto Club Speedway

had one of its two NASCAR dates taken away, leaving only the spring

race.

Track officials have been looking for something to fill the gap

and could go the open-wheel route.

Auto Club Speedway president Gillian Zucker said the track has

had discussions with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard about the

possibility of adding a race from that series in the future. ”He’s

a great promoter and he’s doing some great things with that

series,” Zucker said. ”We feel like this race track is the best

in the world for open-wheel racing and we would love to see it

return.”

PIT STOPS: Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart were enshrined in the

Auto Club Speedway walk of fame before Sunday’s race. … This

season is the first time since 2005 NASCAR’s had five different

winners through the first five races. … Carl Edwards moved into

the series points lead with 187 after finishing sixth. Kurt Busch,

the previous points leader, dropped to third after finishing

17th.