This season, they share another common bond - a surprising zero wins as the Cup calendar turns to Bristol.
Rain forced postponement of the Food City 500 to 1 p.m. ET on Monday, meaning those three will have to wait another day to secure their first victory of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
“We've just thrown away points, if points matter, week in and week out,” Busch said earlier this month in Martinsville, Va., after one of only two top-five finishes over the first seven races. “We've just got to somehow get our luck better. I don't know what it is that just keeps knocking us back that we don't have things kind of go our way, but they just haven't been going our way, so we've just got to keep plugging along until they do.”
Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch’s team, piled up 12 victories last season and pushed Toyota toward its first manufacturer title at NASCAR's premier level. But the team has yet to win through the first seven races.
"I think I know where we are at this point and the things we need to work on, and by no means are we at the top," Hamlin said earlier this month, per The Associated Press. "We as a company have a good idea of where we're at, but I don't think people from the outside can really make a judgment until probably eight to nine races."
There also have been some surprise winners this year - with Kurt Busch at the Daytona 500 after several other would-be victors ran out of fuel, and Ryan Newman at Phoenix Raceway on a late pit stop strategy. It was Newman's first win since July 2013.
Kyle Busch enters Monday’s race seventh in the standings and Hamlin - who clings to the 16th slot - would be the only other JGR driver to make NASCAR’s 16-driver postseason as of Sunday.
Former champion Matt Kenseth, who has JGR’s only other top-five finish this season, is 22nd in the standings, one spot ahead of JGR rookie Daniel Suarez, who was promoted to Cup earlier than expected when Carl Edwards left the team in the offseason.
All four JGR drivers (Busch, Hamlin, Kenseth and Edwards) made the playoff last season and each survived to the round of eight. Jimmie Johnson edged Busch, Edwards and Joey Logano for his record-tying seventh title, in the four-driver finale in November.
Besides the JGR drivers, Team Penske’s Logano and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Harvick also made the round of eight last postseason and each are still searching for their first win of this season. Johnson (Texas Motor Speedway on April 9) and Kurt Busch (Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 26) are the only active drivers who made the round of eight in 2016 to win so far this year.
Harvick has won here twice, including the last time Cup raced here, in August.
“It's really just a matter (of) putting a weekend together,” Harvick said. “It’s really no different than any other racetrack. This business is hard to be successful at and sometimes you go through years where short tracks are good and some years not so good. ... I enjoy the short tracks because we don’t get to go to quite as many as I think we’d all like.”
|Kevin Harvick is among a group of drivers who had wins at this point in 2016. (Photo: Stephen R. Sylvanie, USA TODAY Sports)|
MONSTER ENERGY SERIES BRISTOL RACE POSTPONED
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Sunday's Food City 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway has been postponed due to rain. The race, No. 8 on the 36-race schedule for 2017, has been rescheduled for a 1 p.m. ET start Monday.
FOX will provide live television coverage; radio coverage is on the Performance Racing Network (PRN) and SiriusXM NASCAR.
"We are close to home so it will be fine," points leader Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing) said Sunday morning. "Our car was good in practice and I don't think the track will be too different."
Larson will start from the pole position in his No. 42 Chevrolet, the result of rain canceling Friday's qualifying and the field being set per the rulebook (owner points). With one victory (at Auto Club Speedway) and four runner-up finishes, Larson leads second-place Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports) by 17 points.
Rain also interrupted Saturday's NASCAR XFINITY Series race, creating a delay of more than 90 minutes. But when the rain moved out of the area, officials were able to quickly dry the .533-mile track, and that race was run to its scheduled distance with Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing) flagged the winner.
The rain continued throughout the night and through the morning, eventually forcing officials to postpone. It is the first race to be pushed to the following day due to inclement weather since last fall's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Both races at Pocono Raceway last year also were delayed from Sunday to Monday. Last year's Bristol Night Race, the most recent Monster Energy Series event at the track, was postponed from Saturday to Sunday due to wet weather as well.
Because the rain will wash all the rubber build-up off the racing surface, drivers will face a "green" track on Monday when the event gets underway. NASCAR officials have already announced a Lap 60 competition caution to allow teams to check tire wear.
Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford) said the rain "is somewhat of a blessing in disguise."
"Because (track officials were) talking about laying down more VHT and they can't do it while it's wet," this year's Daytona 500 winner said. "The VHT is like a grip applicator and you have to heat it up to make it work, so in the drag racing world the guys do a burnout through it and you have that stripe that you just heat it up and that's what has to happen for us oval guys. We have to have more cars out there to heat it up, so it's going to be like ice when we first start off and then the grip will come back once we do heat it up after this rain delay."
Track officials applied an adhesive compound (VHT) to the lower lanes in the turns prior to this weekend's race at the request of drivers. A similar substance was used in 2016.
Matt Puccia, crew chief of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford with driver Trevor Bayne, said the rain will likely wash what remains of the compound off the racing surface and, as a result, "I think that you're going to see the top groove move up and you'll see more of the two- and three-lane racing that we've traditionally seen here."
"I think there might still be a little bit of an advantage on the bottom," Puccia said, "but I definitely think the top groove will come in, which, for us, makes it a little bit more challenging because we haven't had any opportunity to run up on the top yet."
NASCAR community reacts to race postponement at Bristol
It’s official: Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway has been rained out. The race will now be run Monday, with coverage starting at 1 p.m. ET on FOX.
NASCAR officials called the race early when it was obvious there was no window of opportunity to get the race in today, with weather.com calling for a probability of rain that ranged from 75 percent to 100 percent between noon and midnight.
And guess what? The racers don’t like rain any better than the fans do. Here’s what they had to say on social media Sunday.