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Teamwork pays off for Joe Gibbs Racing's Hamlin, Ky. Busch

J.D. Gibbs understands the difficulty of getting drivers on the same race team to be teammates who will work openly with each other. The Joe Gibbs Racing President experienced it when Tony Stewart joined Bobby Labonte in JGR's expansion to a two-car team in 1999.

"I think for us, we went through it originally, I think, with Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart," Gibbs said. "Tony is the new guy, Bobby had been there for a while. What we learned through the process, the guys, as much as they want to win, you're your own team."

Multi-car race teams have policies of open notebooks and crew chiefs are good about sharing information, because if they don't, they could be out of a job. Drivers are more independent. Their driving styles differ and not all information transfers to a teammate. They also keep subtle secrets, hidden in their minds, on how, for example, to attack the track, save fuel and save tires. They are kept for the race, when the money is made. The information flowing between teammates usually stops at the first green flag.

The Stewart/Labonte relationship was typical of Sprint Cup and other forms of racing. It's not adversarial or contentious, but full cooperation is rare. The situation at JGR between Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano are sharing information that goes well beyond spring rates and tire pressures.

They're being bona fide teammates.

"They all realize that if I help Denny, Denny in turn is gong to help me, then we can help Joey," Gibbs said. "It's kind of one of those things when you give into the concept that, 'Hey, we are a team, we do help each other out,' I think ideally you want to race each other for every win, the three of our guys up front at the end of the race. We can live with that outcome, racing each other for the victory.

"What you don't want to do is have other guys beating you, you in-house not getting along or communicating. I think our guys do a good job of that communication, which isn't easy."

The discussion of cooperation at JGR was prompted in the post-race media interview Sunday at Richmond, where winner Busch credited runner-up Hamlin for some assistance.

"Denny did do a nice job at helping me here a little bit last fall, talking somewhat to me," Busch said. "We've done the same thing [for Hamlin] at mile-and-a-half places, two-mile places, that he picked up his game, surpassed us a little bit last year.

"I used the information. I kind of used it all throughout the race a little bit. But there at the end, it kind of came down to a fuel strategy, too, where you were mostly saving fuel. That's what it was all about essentially."

Busch didn't need much, or maybe any, help to win his third-straight spring Sprint Cup race at Richmond. Hamlin always runs better in the fall, where he's won the past two. In the spring, Hamlin has been 14th and 11th in the past two Richmond races.

But maybe Hamlin thought he had something for Busch this year if he hadn't provided that little bit of information.

"I opened my mouth," Hamlin said. "I should never have told him."

Hamlin has come out ahead on the deal. He's been terrific on anything flat, winning Pocono twice in his rookie year, and on short tracks, Martinsville, New Hampshire and Richmond. But before last year, he had only one win on an intermediate track, at Homestead-Miami in 2009. Hamlin's breakout season of eight wins in 2010 was primarily to his success on the intermediates, two wins at Texas and one at Michigan and Darlington.

"If I don't tell him the things I know on short tracks, the crew chiefs don't relay information, it's not a good team," Hamlin said. "Obviously, we got paid back on the bigger intermediate tracks. I learned so much from him, talked to him. It might cost me a race here or there because he out runs me. In the grand scheme of things, [sharing information] makes me an overall better driver."

Busch can't explain exactly -- or doesn't want to -- how he made Hamlin a contender on the intermediates.

"I don't know how I've helped Denny, really," Busch said. "I think it was the Charlotte test that it really kind of came to that, talking about some different things: How you try to run the mile-and-a-half stuff versus a typical short track or even Pocono. The best thing about the mile-and-a-half stuff is he was able to get his cars better and kind of run our setups a little bit, then he asked me bout how to drive it.

"And, then, boom, he took off. He really found some speed there, was able to make it work. It's communication, it's talking. It's not necessarily something in particular I told him to do like brake here, that's going to help you. Doesn't work like that. You just got to talk through ideas."

Hamlin's second place at Richmond was his first of the season and it moved him up to 17th in the points. It was a good starting point to a turnaround.

"It's my best finish of the year," Hamlin said. "I'm ecstatic, to be honest. You can't be mad at second place. Yeah, I want to win, trust me. It burns that you didn't win. But how we didn't win I can live with."

Busch likes the way the open-book system is working, too.

"We work really well together," he said. "We've developed a good relationship where we know where each other stands. That's what it takes in this sport, to know how well you can work with somebody, how well you can talk to somebody. Sometimes what you can say, sometimes what you can't say."

Busch figures it will be his turn to tap into Hamlin's secrets when they go to Pocono in June and August.

"I need to talk to Denny about Pocono," Busch said. "I'm still not very good there."