Bell win in New Hampshire at JGR dimmed by Truex, Busch suffers


Bell win in New Hampshire at JGR dimmed by Truex, Busch suffers


LOUDON, NH — Joe Gibbs had a race win to celebrate in New Hampshire — and a future dinner to fill his belly with the 21-pound lobster presented to winner Christopher Bell — but some things felt for the Hall of Still not properly fame to team owners.

Star No. 1 driver Martin Truex Jr. had the dominant car for most of Sunday’s race but fell back to fourth place, meaning the winless driver is suddenly in the NASCAR playoff bubble with six races to go , before the 16-rider field is settled.

Number 2, two-time cup winner Kyle Busch, is unhappy. Sure, that’s not a new feeling for the notoriously prickly driver, but the circumstances bother him more than a collision with another driver. Busch doesn’t have a new contract for 2023 and the process is so slow that the driver said this weekend he’s bought into other teams.

“Riot isn’t a good word for it,” Gibbs said, laughing at a reporter’s suggestion. “Give me a better word. Maybe fight or something now. I think that happens in professional sports. I think that’s why we all like it so much. It is difficult. It takes a lot up here. The hardest part is probably getting four teams in the right direction.”

At least Bell pointed his #20 Toyota in the right direction — the one that led to NASCAR’s playoffs. Bell secured his spot with a strong run late Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, winning his second career cup race.

Bell was the 14th driver to earn a spot in the 16-driver playoff field. With six races remaining in the regular season, it leaves open the possibility that more than 16 drivers could win a race and the final playoff spot or spots would be decided on points.

Bell will compete for the championship in the final 10 races of the season. Busch has a win which has secured him a place in the field. Denny Hamlin has balanced leading a racing team with Michael Jordan – and signing riders for his 23XI Racing stable for 2024 – by winning two races this season to solidify himself in the field.

That leaves only Truex among the four-car JGR herd without an automatic spot.

2017 NASCAR champion with Furniture Row Racing, Truex, sits fourth overall in the current points standings – essentially meaningless when the field resets for the postseason. He is 16th of 16 qualified drivers and knows he won’t be able to drive with points as parity shot through the field with the introduction of the new next generation NASCAR stock car.

Truex took the New Hampshire pole, winning the first two stages and leading a race-high for 172 laps. But he couldn’t recover from a two tire pit stop late in the race that knocked him out of the race.

“We just didn’t have anything to move forward on two tires,” Truex said. “The car absolutely hated it. It wasn’t like it had been all day. Couldn’t go anywhere. We just had to get through it and get what we could.”

Truex said the two-tire call was “wrong” and shrugged, “What are you going to do?”

Truex can forget about the points race with a win next week in Pocono. He took victories at the Tri-Oval circuit in 2015 and 2018, although the new car has made old results largely unreliable as an indicator of future success.

However, Truex admits that if even one other rider wins and he’s still winless after six more races, the odds will be against him.

“If someone else wins, we’re out. That’s just the way it is,” Truex said. “We race every week, do our best, try to win races and obviously we’ve been able to do that lately. We had winning cars this year.”

Gibbs said he’s surprised Truex hasn’t broken the playoff bracket yet — and equally surprised his racing team Busch hasn’t yet had to sign a new contract.

Busch faced an uncertain future after M&M Mars announced it would cut its marketing spend at the end of this season. The company had sponsored Busch since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008.

The search for a new sponsor has dragged on and Busch was clearly upset that he didn’t have a new contract. Busch said on Saturday a new contract “would be nice, sooner rather than later”.

Busch didn’t give details but said he’s bought into other teams, though championship-caliber rides are rare.

“You have to initiate a lot to make things work,” Gibbs said. “We work as hard as we can. We are going in different directions. So yeah, I’m surprised at this point that we didn’t manage to finish that.”

Gibbs, 81, still has work to do this season.

After gently handling Loudon the Lobster, Bell does the same: “Anybody got butter sauce?” he tweeted

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