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Looks like a Joe Gibbs-versus-Rick Hendrick summer looming, and Gibbs may finally have the edge

  Team owner Joe Gibbs (L) is at the top of his game right now on the NASCAR trail, with five wins in the last seven Sprint Cup tour stops. And Dover winner Kyle Busch (R) is just one part of his arsenal (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   Well now, maybe the tide has indeed turned.
   Yes, Jimmie Johnson had the car to beat here Sunday...but Chad Knaus' Chevy wasn't but maybe only a tick better than Dave Rogers' Toyota that Kyle Busch rode to victory, after Johnson's pit road speeding penalty late in the three-hour race.
   And team owner Joe Gibbs, with five Sprint Cup tour victories – at Martinsville, Texas, Richmond, Darlington and now Dover -- in the last seven races, may well have stock car racing kingpin Rick Hendrick scratching his head.
   Johnson and Busch had equally matched cars most of the warm afternoon at Dover International Speedway, with Busch's car getting better as the day went on.
   When the field pitted under green for the final time, with about 40 miles left, it looked like a Johnson-versus-Busch shootout.
   Johnson and Busch had waged a pitched battle the previous 45 minutes or so, with Busch having a slight edge, but with Johnson making a pass for the lead just before the final stops.
   Rogers' pit crew beat Knaus' pit crew on the stop, and Johnson tried to make up the difference leaving pit road, only to get busted by NASCAR.
   "I wouldn't say we psyched Jimmie out," Busch said after his second win of the past three weeks. "I mean, he's won four championships, so he's pretty much been through all the head games in this world.
    "But it turned our way today."
    Busch said he had been looking forward to a final 35 miles of mano a mano with Johnson.
   "Unfortunately for those guys, they got busted for speeding, and we weren't able to beat them outright, and race them around to the end the last 30 laps," Busch said.
    "But I feel our car was at least good enough where we could challenge them for it. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say we could have beaten him with or without the penalty.
    "But he had a fast car all day. It was a fun battle, racing him through the last 100 laps or so."
    What was Rogers thinking when he saw NASCAR post Johnson's number for the speeding penalty? "It's surprising he got caught speeding," Rogers said. "He typically doesn't make those mistakes.
    "Bu you've got to give a 'hats off' to Kyle Busch and our entire pit crew. They've been stellar on pit road all day, and all year for that matter.
     "I think that put pressure on him (Johnson). I think Jimmie was probably just trying to make up a little bit. He saw Kyle close to his back bumper coming into pit road, and he knew our pit crew is pretty strong.
     "I'm sure he was just trying to get all he could get, and he just went a little bit too far."
    Busch came so darned close to sweeping the entire Dover weekend – he dominated the Truck race Friday, only to have a fuel problem the final lap; then he dominated Saturday's Nationwide race in victory.
    "That's why I've always raced as much as I race," Busch said. "The biggest thing was going through this weekend learning as much as I could about the tires, and making sure I had good race cars.
    "When you have one good race car, then you know what you need in the rest of them.
    "And it's not going to hurt my feelings too bad to go home Monday, or go to bed tonight, knowing I lost Friday -- I'm going to think more about today and what this Sprint Cup championship means, more than what winning in one of my Trucks does."
   For the boss, owner Joe Gibbs, well, it was more than just a winning weekend, it was an eventful one too, with his Denny Hamlin and that late-Saturday run-in with rival Clint Bowyer. Hamlin bopped Bowyer in a battle for the win in the final miles Saturday, and Bowyer bobbed him back...which could earn Bowyer a penalty from NASCAR this week....unless the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski no-call precedent is invoked.
   As much as Busch's hot weekend, Gibbs pointed to Hamlin's own performance under pressure as showing he's finally championship caliber: "Denny, coming into this year, was a threat at certain tracks. What he's showing now is he can win anyplace.
     "Denny is maturing. Obviously he's very solid, does not make mistakes....and the Nationwide race (controversy), I really appreciated -- and I told him this how he handled it in the interviews: I appreciate him and the way he handled that."
    Now Gibbs has two heavy hitters, Hamlin, with wins at Martinsville, Texas and Darlington, and Busch, with wins at Richmond and Dover. And newcomer Joey Logano is coming on strong too.
   The hot streak? "You can get on a run in pro sports...but the thing I'm always conscious of is the knuckle sandwich is waiting right around the corner," Gibbs said warily.
    "We're just getting started really here (this season). I'm thrilled that the last seven or eight weeks have gone so well for us. But the reality is that can all turn in a week.
   "In pro sports...you always just stay humble, and get after it."


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