Leaning on the hood of his No. 19 machine at Richmond, Carl Edwards summed up his team’s thoughts heading into the Chase perfectly.
“It’s just fun to be a part of something that’s going this well,” he said. “All I know is that right now it’s awesome to be driving a car for Joe Gibbs. These cars are just so fast.”
That trend continued in Chicagoland, where Denny Hamlin won the race after Kyle Busch paced the field for 121 laps before finishing ninth. As for Edwards? Well, he finished runner-up to Hamlin while fellow JGR driver Matt Kenseth came away with a fifth-place finish.
Hamlin’s victory was JGR’s 12th this season and ninth of the last 12 races.
As a result, all four of the top drivers in the Chase standings are from Gibbs—marking the first time that has been accomplished during the Chase. Hendrick came close back in 2009, but had only three drivers at the top of the standings with Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon.
Oh, and this is only the first year JGR even has four drivers on the track with an entirely new team formed for Edwards. So far, it seems to have paid off for the former Redskins coach.
But like any team in sports, the question begs to be raised: How long can this last?
For JGR, the window is one that’s wide open. While Kenseth is currently 43 years old—nearly the same age as Gordon, who’s set to retire after 2015—he’s still making waves every season. Edwards (36), Hamlin (34) and Busch (30) all have long careers ahead and look to be knocking on the door at a championship.
Speaking of Gordon, JGR’s biggest rival in Hendrick will be losing the four-time champion after this year to make way for Chase Elliott. While Elliott is the reigning Xfinity Series champ, he likely won’t be truly competing for a title at just 20 years old as a rookie.
Still worried about the talent pool for JGR drying up? Don’t forget Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez are also coming up through the Gibbs system. Jones is sitting at first in the Trucks Series standings during his first full-time season while Suarez has six top fives during his Xfinity Series rookie campaign.
“We look at Erik as a big part of our future,” Gibbs said earlier this year. “We’ve got a plan laid out and it’s not something we’ve talked about in public, but we all kind of know inside of our racing organization, and with his parents and his agent—is just great.
“So we’ve talked over a plan, and basically the plan next year would be a full Xfinity season and try and run for a championship there and also to, in all likelihood, have him in some Cup races so that would be the goal for next year.”
— #TheChase (@NASCAR) September 20, 2015
The future of Gibbs also looks promising because the equipment can truly compete with anything NASCAR throws at them.
If NASCAR moves to a low-aerodynamic package, JGR won’t slow down. In the four races where NASCAR transitioned to different rules, Gibbs won all four. Of those, two were low-aero package events with Busch throttling the field at Kentucky and Edwards coming from behind to turn Darlington into “Carlington.”
Sure, there will still be competition with Kevin Harvick, Johnson and Kurt Busch leading the way for Chevrolet. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are pacing the Ford stable, but there is zero concern outside of Team Penske with Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports both struggling.
As one of the only teams still carrying the flag for Toyota Racing after 2015, Gibbs is clearly proof that the manufacturer can support a championship-caliber team. With title contenders now and in the future, winning equipment for any package and Toyota backing, Joe Gibbs Racing’s stranglehold over NASCAR isn’t letting up any time soon.