By Jenna Fryer
FORT WORTH, Texas - Joe Gibbs Racing came into Texas Motor Speedway with two wins in the past three races. By team calculations, that's about three victories short of where they should be.
Mechanical issues have plagued all three Gibbs cars this season at various times, creating a frustration level often unseen in teams running so well. Kyle Busch enters today's race fifth in the Sprint Cup standings, Tony Stewart is sixth and Denny Hamlin, the winner last week at Martinsville Speedway, is eighth.
"It's hard. All they know is they broke a part and it kept them from winning a race," Jimmy Makar, senior vice president of racing operations at JGR, said Friday.
The problems have been widespread, and usually come when a Gibbs car is running near the front.
Hamlin's power steering failed in Atlanta, and he had a fuel pickup issue while leading on a restart in the closing laps at Bristol - the same problem Stewart had moments before when Hamlin passed him for the lead.
Busch has had the worst luck, losing his power steering in Bristol - while leading - then breaking a rear gear last week in Martinsville. A broken gasket also took him out of contention at his home track in Las Vegas.
Busch, who scored Toyota's first Cup victory with his win last month in Atlanta, figures he's probably lost three races because of mechanical failures and took his concerns to team owner Joe Gibbs.
The broken steering box plagued both Hamlin and Busch, baffling the entire Gibbs organization. Makar said the team has yet to pinpoint what happened to Hamlin's, but said Busch's failure a week later was an assembly issue.
Toyota, which paired with the Gibbs organization this season, is also doing its part to help the team figure out its mechanical issues.
The day after Busch's steering failed at Bristol, Toyota executives Lee White and Andy Graves were at Gibbs' shop before 8 a.m. to offer their assistance in solving the problem.
"We told them, 'Guys, you are doing great in making it go fast. If there's anything we can do as an engineering provider to help with the heavy lifting with this kind of stuff, all you have to do is ask. I'll make a phone call to California and we'll have a crew of engineers here the same day. If we can help with some of this type of the activity, it helps you work on going fast,'" White said.
That's the teamwork Gibbs was hoping for when the team left General Motors after 16 seasons. Although team management had faith the partnership with Toyota would be productive, the drivers didn't know what to expect.
But knowing Toyota Racing Development is so involved in this rash of broken parts has put Hamlin's mind at ease.