Johnson City Press: Gibbs, Ford teams flex early muscle
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Gibbs, Ford teams flex early muscle

Jeff Birchfield • Feb 26, 2019 at 5:50 PM

As expected, the Joe Gibbs Racing organization and two Ford teams have sprinted out of the gate the first two races of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

Denny Hamlin led a 1-2-3 finish for JGR at Daytona, while Brad Keselowski put Team Penske up front at Atlanta.

With the strongest overall lineup in the sport, all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have top-five finishes in the first two races. Hamlin leads the points, while Kyle Busch is third and Erik Jones seventh.

In addition, JGR swept Xfinity and Truck Series races last weekend. Christopher Bell, the early favorite to win the Xfinity Series title, led 142 of 163 laps at Atlanta, while Busch passed Ron Hornaday Jr. as the winningest driver in Truck Series history with his 52nd career victory.

Team Penske made its mark in the Atlanta Cup race with all three drivers — Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano and Keselowski — all leading for extended time. Tire and wheel problems eliminated Blaney and Logano from contention, while Keselowski, who had been sick all weekend, held off Gibbs driver Martin Truex Jr. for the win.

Also on the Ford front, Stewart-Haas Racing showed some of the strength it had in 2018. Aric Almirola won the pole, while Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez each qualified in the top five. Kevin Harvick wasn't able to dominate like the previous year at Atlanta, but he still managed to lead 45 laps and finish fourth.

Not surprising, Ganassi Racing is currently leading the Chevrolet camp. With former Cup Series champion Kurt Busch teaming with Kyle Larson, it has elevated the performance of the overall team. Larson led a race-high 142 laps at Atlanta, but was derailed by a pit-road penalty. Busch posted a strong third-place finish.

The other Chevrolet teams, most notably Hendrick Motorsports, continue to struggle.

Alex Bowman led Hendrick contingent with a 15th-place finish at Atlanta. William Byron was 17th, followed by Chase Elliott in 19th and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, two laps off the pace in 24th.

VIVA LAS VEGAS

The Cup Series now shifts to another 1 1/2-mile track at Las Vegas. Harvick is the defending race champion, while Keselowski was the most recent winner in September.

Johnson leads all drivers with four Las Vegas wins. Keselowski has three wins at the Nevada track, followed by Harvick with two. Truex has one Vegas victory as does Kyle Busch at his hometown track.

Blaney has the best average finish (8.4 over five races) of all active drivers followed by Logano and Larson.

SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT

Bristol Motor Speedway announced last week that teenagers age 13-19 are now eligible for half-price tickets with the purchase of an adult ticket to the track's NASCAR events. The BMS ticket office and Ticketmaster are the only two authorized locations that can produce the teen tickets.

"The addition of our teen pricing program provides yet another affordable option for families to maximize their entertainment dollar," said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway. "We fully believe that when a new fan is exposed to the incredible action on the high banks, they will become a fan for life."

BMS also continues its kids and college-student ticket programs.

Race week is fast approaching with Bush's Beans Qualifying Day on Friday, April 5. The Alsco 300 for the Xfinity Series and Zombie Auto 150 for the K&N Series is Saturday, April 6 — with the Cup Series Food City 500 on Sunday, April 7.

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