he 2016 season for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was one for the record books. The team kicked of their 25th season with winning the Daytona 500 to winning a second consecutive championship. The team formed a technical alliance with Furniture Row Racing, but that did not stop the success of the organization. Drivers for the organization were Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Matt Kenseth.
Hamlin kicked off the season at Daytona with a close finish in the Daytona 500 edging out Martin Truex Jr. by .008 seconds. Hamlin’s season was plagued with numerous penalties on pit road. Hamlin was in contention to win numerous races over the season. Hamlin had four DNF’s throughout the season with three resulting from accidents and one engine issue. After winning the season opening race, Hamlin scored victory at Watkins Glen and Richmond, where he started on the pole. With his three wins, Hamlin was able to make the playoffs. Hamlin made it to the third round by the skin of his teeth edging out Austin Dillon by .006 seconds at Talladega. In the third round, Hamlin scored three top-10 finishes, but was able to advance to the final round at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Busch picked up in 2016 where he left off after his championship in 2015. His season started out with a third place finish at Daytona. In the following week, Busch won the pole but had to forfeit the pole after his time was disallowed due to failing post-qualifying inspection. Despite losing the pole, Busch captured the pole at Phoenix. Busch captured his first victory of the season and first victory at Martinsville leaving Charlotte and Pocono as the only tracks where he hasn’t won at. He followed up the victory in Martinsville with a win at Texas Motor Speedway. However, Busch was in an accident at Bristol which resulted in his first DNF on the season. However, the rebound came quickly with second place finishes at Richmond and Talladega, and a victory at Kansas Speedway. However, that comeback was short lived with DNF’s at Dover and Charlotte, a 31st place finish at Pocono, and engine issues at Michigan. Busch stayed consistent over the next seven races with a victory at Indianapolis. Bristol was another DNF for Busch as he suffered a crash. Going into the playoffs, Busch started off strong with a win at Chicago that moved him into the next round. In the second round, Busch had strong finishes at Charlotte and Kansas, but was conservative with Kenseth and Edwards to secure a spot in the “Round of 8”. Busch made his way through that round with three top-five finishes in a move to return to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami. However, Busch came up short on a back-to-back championship, but left the season with strong momentum going into 2017.
For Edwards, 2016 would be his last as a driver in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition. His 2016 season started strong with two top-five finishes at Daytona and Atlanta. After an 18th place finish at Las Vegas, Edwards scored two poles at Texas and Bristol as well as two wins at Bristol and Richmond. His first DNF of the season came at Talladega. His second DNF came two weeks alter at Dover. Edwards was able to recover after Charlotte with three top-10 finishes and a pole at Sonoma. His third DNF came at Daytona, but came into Kentucky with a second place finish. After terrible finishes at New Hampshire and Indianapolis, Edwards posted five top-20 finishes including two poles at Watkins Glen and Bristol. Going into the playoffs, Edwards did not have the momentum, but had the consistency. He scored the pole at New Hampshire in the first round, but no wins. He made it into the second round with finishes of 12th and second at Charlotte and Kansas, and went conservative at Talladega to keep his hopes going into the “Round of 8”. With a win at Texas, Edwards clinched his spot into the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami. Edwards was less than 10 laps away for clinching his first championshi, but greed for position ensued from behind leaving Edwards with a wrecked vehicle.
Kenseth rode in 2016 very quietly. In the first few races of 2016, he was without his veteran spotter, Chris Osborne, after he suffered injury from an accident in the offseason. Kenseth was about a half a mile away from winning another Daytona 500, but a gutsy move pushed him out of the draft and resulted in a 14th place finish. The season did not start off strong for Kenseth; His first top-10 finish in the first eight races came at Phoenix. His second top-10 came at Richmond. His first DNF came at Talladega after an accident on the backstretch. However, the next four races resulted in a top-10 finish including a win at Dover. His next run of top-10 finishes began at Kentuck with three top-10 finishes including a win at New Hampshire. After Indianapolis, Kenseth only had two top finishes before the playoff began. When the playoffs began, Kenseth became more consistent with his top-10 finishes. In the opening round of the playoffs, Kenseth had three top-10 finishes. In the second round, Kenseth won at Kansas to move to the third round. Kenseth came just short in the third round to move to the Championship Round. Kenseth ended the season at Homestead with a seventh place finish.
2017 will be a year of change at Joe Gibbs Racing. With Edwards going into retirement, Daniel Suarez will move on up and have his chance in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Despite not having Edwards, JGR will continue to be the dominate powerhouse in the Cup Series. It will be interesting to see how Hamlin, Busch, and Kenseth will lean on Suarez and vice versa. JGR is the team to watch going into 2017.