Site Network: Cycling | Golf | Tennis | NHL | NBA | NFL | MLB | Futsal | Handball | Boxing | Rugby | Snooker | Cricket |

Trouble brewing at JGR

It’s doubtful it was much of an off weekend at Joe Gibbs Racing, where tempers were running hot after three weeks’ worth of engine issues.

The three JGR drivers want answers about their suddenly unreliable engines, telling team owner Joe Gibbs as much in their weekly debriefing after Kyle Busch’s race ended early in Las Vegas because his engine, he said, went “kablooey. It just broke.”

The trouble started before the season-opening Daytona 500, when Denny Hamlin had to change his engine. Then Joey Logano had an engine failure in Phoenix; Hamlin had to change his before the race in Las Vegas; and Busch’s engine couldn’t make it to the end of the same race.

“Obviously, we have some sort of problem,” Busch said after Vegas.

It’s unacceptable, the drivers told Gibbs.

Kyle Busch's engine goes up in flames at Las Vegas.
(Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Building an engine is a maddening cycle of chasing both horsepower and the competition. Just when everyone believed Hendrick Motorsports was at the head of the class, last season the Earnhardt-Childress Racing engines took over as best in the industry.

Through three races this year, it’s become evident that Roush Yates Engines has caught up to and maybe even passed the competition.

The JGR group, which last year won 11 Sprint Cup Races and 16 in the Nationwide Series, is keenly aware of how far they’ve fallen behind the competition. The pressure to keep up can be tremendous, but falling behind in power would be easier to stomach if the drivers and crew chiefs were certain the engines could make it to the finish.

As it stood before the off week, it sure didn’t seem like many at JGR were convinced their engines were durable. Some have questioned if an offseason fire in the JGR engine shop isn’t the source of the problems. The Huntersville Fire Department termed the February incident a “significant flash fire,” but the team said most of the damage was caused by smoke and water.

The fire was a setback but an unlikely cause of JGR’s predicament. The issues probably have more to do with the never-ending push to find more power and the fact that manufacturer Toyota is trailing its rivals in that category.

“We’re trying to make the best horsepower we can to keep up with some other teams that we know have better horsepower than we do,” Busch said. “The guys keep trying to find every ounce they can and, unfortunately, sometimes we push the limits.”

Hamlin alluded to Toyota’s responsibility in solving the engine issues after Las Vegas, where his backup engine made it to the end for a seventh-place finish – best of the three JGR cars and best of the season for Hamlin. But he failed to lead a lap. Combined, Busch, Hamlin and Logano have led just 42 laps through the first three races, which are actually 19 more than at this time a year ago.

“We definitely have not gone each week yet without an engine issue,” Hamlin said. “Hopefully, we’ll get that all together and everything and get TRD [Toyota Research & Development] on it to figure out what’s going on.”

That’s exactly what was said to Gibbs last week, as the drivers openly wonder why their engines are struggling and what Toyota can do to help.

JGR left Chevrolet for Toyota several seasons ago to become the top dog with a manufacturer, and although JGR builds its engines in-house, the organization has to have confidence it’s getting everything it can from TRD.

By the sound of it, the drivers believe everyone can be doing better.

Conversely, Red Bull Racing driver Kasey Kahne said after Las Vegas that he has no concerns about the Toyota engines. That vote of confidence from Kahne means very little right now so long as JGR is struggling.

1. Speaking of Kahne

He has only one top-10 finish through the first three races, but he couldn’t be happier with the start of his first season with Red Bull.

“Really calm and really nice – things I’m not used to,” Kahne said of his first month in the No. 4 Toyota.

After several turbulent seasons with his old team – it started as Evernham Motorsports, became Gillett Evernham Motorsports and ended as Richard Petty Motorsports – Kahne is just happy to be drama-free.

Though he said the day-to-day operations at Red Bull aren’t all that different from the way his old team operated, he views the atmosphere and approach to business as being much better.

“Sometimes it’s attitude, excitement, preparation, how you look at things,” Kahne explained. “Be open-minded: If our stuff isn’t good enough, let’s figure out how to make it better. Everybody [at Red Bull] has a great attitude and is excited to be at the racetrack and to be preparing cars for this season. It’s been really easy and it’s been really nice.”

Kahne added that he’s getting along well with teammate Brian Vickers; the two have worked together and shared information. They didn’t sync two weeks ago at Las Vegas, where Kahne and Vickers headed in opposite directions, but Kahne was ultimately pleased with his car despite a 14th-place finish. Vickers was 10th.

“We had a pretty off weekend at Vegas and we still ran 14th with a beat-up car,” Kahne said. “That’s actually a pretty good day. Last year, if something like that happened, we’d probably be about 50th.”

Kahne, by the way, didn’t take last weekend off. Instead, he drove a Kyle Busch Motorsports truck to victory atDarlington Raceway.

2. Why is RPM better?

It’s been a decent start to the season for AJ Allmendinger, Kahne’s former teammate at RPM. Allmendinger sits ninth in the Sprint Cup Series standings, and though Marcos Ambrose is 17th in points, he’s coming off a season-best fourth-place finish at Las Vegas.

George Gillett no longer has controlling interest in Richard Petty Motorsports.
(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

What’s the difference at RPM? It could be, Kahne presumed, as simple as cutting down from four teams to two this year. With Kahne now at Red Bull and Paul Menard at Richard Childress Racing, the organization is no longer stretching limited sponsorship dollars to cover four race teams.

“Probably having less may have helped them,” Kahne said. “Sometimes you get spread too thin.”

But Kahne didn’t stop there. He then took a dig at former team co-owner George Gillett, who – along with his two sons – took Evernham’s once-competitive organization and nearly ran it into the ground.

“Not having the Gilletts there anymore probably helped them too,” Kahne said.

Kahne is right on both fronts. Almost every team owner seems convinced that three and four cars is the best approach, but without significant funding it just doesn’t work. Even down to just two cars, RPM likely lags far behind in terms of corporate funding. But the team learned the past few years how to do less with more, and by cutting its fleet in half the team might actually be feeling pretty flush right now.

And there’s something to be said for the Gillett comment. Richard Petty and a new investor group reclaimed ownership during the offseason, and the move put racers back in charge of the storied organization.

It’s hard to be a successful race team when businessmen are calling the shots. Controlling the purse strings is one thing, but making unqualified racing decisions can drive a team toward ruin – and that’s nearly what happened with RPM.

With Robbie Loomis and Sammie Johns able to run things on a results-driven model, RPM may be able to accomplish more this season than it has in years.

3. Can Jimmie Johnson repeat at Bristol?

Johnson doesn’t think it should be a problem, even though he never came close to defending his Las Vegas victory two weeks ago.

Johnson was lapped early in the race. He battled his way back into the top 10 but left Las Vegas with a 16th-place finish. The four-time Vegas winner and defending champion there said he “left there really disappointed we didn’t finish in the top 10.”

But he’s got a concrete reason why the No. 48 team struggled all weekend: Hendrick Motorsports is still developing its cars and, without testing, it could take time for Johnson to get into a groove this season.

“There’s no quick fix. It’s going to take time,” said Johnson, who was 27th at Daytona and third at Phoenix, though he was never a contender to win there.

So does that mean he should struggle at Bristol, where last spring he grabbed his first career victory on the bullring? Nah.

Johnson said their short-track program is not affected by Hendrick’s development, and he believes his Chevrolet will be just fine at Bristol and Martinsville.

“The short-track stuff, it doesn’t migrate toward the new technology the same way,” he explained. “Guys joke around that the Bristol setup they are running today is what they ran in the ’90s.”

In other words, expect Johnson to be in the mix Sunday.

4. Kurt Busch returns to his day job

After a weekend dabbling in the NHRA, where he was eliminated in the first round, Kurt Busch heads to Bristol quite capable of winning.

Busch is a five-time Bristol winner, and he led 278 laps last spring before a late debris caution ate up his sizable lead. Everybody went to pit road while Busch and Johnson each took four tires and restarted the race in fifth and sixth. While Johnson was able to plow his way to his first Bristol victory, Busch got stacked up in traffic and had to settle for a bitter third-place finish.

“I’d rather lose to any of the other 41 cars out there than the 48 car,” Busch bemoaned after the race.

Busch is tied with Tony Stewart for the Sprint Cup Series points lead and has finished ninth or better in the first three races of the season. Plus, he’s riding high after his stint last week at the NHRA Gatornationals.

Busch made his first start in the Pro Stock class and, despite losing in the first round to Erica Enders, had the fifth-fastest time of the round – which included 12 total drivers.

5. Add Martin Truex Jr. to the list of early surprises

Truex is off to the strong start everybody expected a year ago, when he made the big jump to Michael WaltripRacing.

His 2010 performance didn’t live up to the hype, and it was David Reutimann who carried MWR most of last season. Truex, who was 22nd in the 2010 final standings, had just seven top-10 finishes amid rumblings that the pairing with crew chief Pat Tryson wasn’t all that harmonious.

Entering the 2011 season, Truex had a little bit to prove, and so far he’s off to a decent start. He led 17 laps in the Daytona 500 and had a contending car until he was shuffled back to 19th in the closing laps. He was then 14th at Phoenix and sixth at Las Vegas.

Truex now goes to Bristol ranked seventh in the standings, hopeful he can grab his first career top-10 finish in Tennessee. His previous best was 11th in 2007.

“This team has been on it this year,” Truex said. “We really hit on some things at the end of last season. The communication is going great. We’re building a lot better race cars. There’s going to be a lot more of this this year.”

0 comentarios:

Publicar un comentario en la entrada