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The secret to beating Joe Gibbs Racing at the Daytona 500? Good luck figuring it out

The Charlotte Observer logo The Charlotte Observer 2/14/2020 By Alex Andrejev, The Charlotte Observer

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Denny Hamlin sat in the middle of a swarm of microphones and a tangle of reporters’ arms at NASCAR’s Media Day on Wednesday. Everyone wanted to hear what what the reigning Daytona 500 champion had to say five days before this year’s season opener.

“We’ve been a factor to win every Daytona 500 it seems like for the last decade,” Hamlin said. “So I come here thinking there’s no reason that should be any different.”

Some drivers are unsure about even finishing the race, but not Hamlin. He brimmed with the confidence of a driver who won six races and ranked in the top four in points last season behind two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates.

Hamlin’s confidence, however, was dwarfed by the swagger of reigning NASCAR Cup champion and JGR teammate, Kyle Busch.

“New rules, old rules,” Busch said. “Joe Gibbs Racing, baby! That’s where it’s at.”

JGR drivers Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones also filed in Wednesday. Jones rides the momentum of winning his first Busch Clash on Sunday, in which his badly damaged No. 20 Toyota was pushed over the finish line by Hamlin, setting the tone for another season dominated by the same team.

After notching a record-setting 19 race wins as a team, the question facing NASCAR’s Cup drivers this season is how to beat JGR.

“It’s a huge challenge,” Truex said. “We all push each other as drivers, as teams — the way crew teams work together, the engineers all work together well — and to find a way to beat those guys. It’s kind of the race within the race.”

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Truex finished 2019 with seven wins, the most of any driver in last year’s series. He said his goal is to best that record with eight wins this year, but it’s not his only goal.

“I would probably rather win zero races and the championship than win seven and finish second again,” said Truex, who also finished in second at Homestead in 2018 after winning the Cup in 2017 with the now defunct Furniture Row Racing. “So we’ll just see how that all plays out.”

Truex said driving for the top team is “fun” but also a challenge when it comes down to the final laps since there are no secrets between JGR drivers.

“We share everything in our meetings. It’s hard to one-up those guys on a consistent basis. That’s what’s fun about it though,” he said.

JGR drivers have an especially high stake in this year’s Daytona 500: Hamlin wants to defend his title, Truex Jr. wants to win the series and Busch has won almost every major race except the iconic superspeedway event.

“Not being able to win the Daytona 500 isn’t something that’s going to kill me,” Busch said. “But it’s certainly going to weigh on me in the late goings of a race to try to get out there and win this thing.”

The only obstacle standing in the way for those JGR drivers Sunday could be the guys they share a garage with.

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