KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Are we witnessing the greatest team season in modern NASCAR history?
Denny Hamlin’s win Sunday at Kansas continued Joe Gibbs Racing’s domination of the 2019 Cup Series season. Hamlin’s fifth victory of the year was the team’s 16th of the season through 32 races. With two more wins over the final four races — a simple continuation of the team’s 50 percent win rate — JGR will tie a team achievement that once looked unmatchable.
In 2007, Hendrick Motorsports won a staggering 18 races as Jimmie Johnson scored his second straight championship. Johnson was responsible for 10 of those wins while Jeff Gordon chipped in six and finished in the top 10 in a remarkable 30 of 36 races. The other two wins came from Kyle Busch and Casey Mears.
When 2017 Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. joined the team from the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing ahead of the 2019 season, JGR immediately became the organization with the most accomplished drivers in the series. It was easy to see it being the organization to beat this season.
But hardly anyone expected JGR to do this. After all, Stewart-Haas Racing won 12 races a year ago — eight of them were Kevin Harvick’s — and Team Penske’s three drivers won seven as Joey Logano won the 2018 title. 2019 looked like it was going to be a scrap among the three organizations again with Hendrick Motorsports angling to improve after a down season.
It’s been a JGR knockout. At least so far. Truex has a season-leading six victories while Kyle Busch has four — despite going winless in the past 18 races — and Erik Jones won the Southern 500 in September.
While Jones is out of the playoffs thanks to a disqualification and a crash in the first round, Busch, Truex and Hamlin enter the third round of the NASCAR playoffs as the top three seeds.
At this point, it’ll be a massive shock if just one or even two of those three aren’t among the four drivers racing for the championship in NASCAR’s winner-take-all finale at Homestead in November.
“A lot of circumstances determine whether or not you're going to get to Homestead as a race team or an organization,” Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart said. “Clearly we have shown the ability to be the favorites I think. It's just a matter of executing, with a little bit of luck these next three, and I think we got a great shot at it.”
The shot may be more than great given the speed JGR has. All three of its drivers have run up front recently at Martinsville, the site of next weekend’s race and Hamlin is the defending winner at Texas while Busch is the defending winner at Phoenix, the other two races in the third round. It’s not out of the question that JGR could end up tying — or even surpassing — Hendrick’s modern mark ahead of Homestead.
“Even though the next few weeks there's a variance of you got a short track, a mile‑and‑a‑half, then you kind of got a short track hybrid in Phoenix, we feel like we can win at every single one of them,” Hamlin said of his No. 11 team’s confidence.
“That's one thing that not a lot of drivers can probably say, they feel like they can win at every single track they go to. That's been the case for us this year.”
Homestead is where Gibbs’ head has been at during the playoffs. He said he’s been more focused on getting his organization’s fifth championship than the significance of all the wins his drivers are piling up.
If JGR matches Hendrick’s win total and doesn’t get a title, it’s fair to say it would be an empty accomplishment.
“I think more about the championship,” Gibbs said. “I'm more focused on that. But certainly, we love the wins. ... This format for playoffs, Kyle won the regular season, which was a huge deal for us. But when you get in these three‑round playoffs, anything can happen. We know that. That makes you so nervous.
“I think what you're doing is constantly thinking about Homestead, how do we get to Homestead? That's what I think about the most.”
JGR will be there racing for the title. It’s just a matter of figuring out which team or teams will be racing against it.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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