Joe Gibbs meets with Hamlin, Stewart in Chicago
JOLIET, Ill. -- Joe Gibbs hoped teammates Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart could handle their dispute between themselves when he left Daytona International Speedway last weekend. When it became apparent they couldn't, the owner of Joe Gibbs Racing made a special stop at Chicagoland Speedway to settle it himself. Gibbs met with his drivers, who had no idea he was coming, during the first part of Saturday's final Nextel Cup practice and then left for a vacation in Colorado.
"For him to come in and say, 'If it takes a little practice time it takes a little practice time,' it's worth it," JGR president J.D. Gibbs said before Sunday's race.
"He wanted everyone to know this is important. You guys are an important part of this team, and this whole team means a lot to me, and I want to make sure you're all seeing things the right way."
The controversy began 15 laps into the Pepsi 400 when Hamlin and Stewart, running first and second, crashed. Stewart appeared to get Hamlin loose coming off Turn 4 and then got into the back of his teammate, who turned sideways and took both drivers out.
Hamlin, who insisted he never let up, was so upset that he ignored Stewart's phone calls during the week to cool off. The two planned to meet on Friday in Chicago but that never happened.
In stepped Joe Gibbs.
"It's like a family, one of those deals where you want to deal with your issues behind closed doors," J.D. Gibbs said. "Air it out and make sure you're in good shape. Right now everyone feels good about it.
"He said, 'On my way out, I'm going to stop, address this and make sure we're all in on the same page and then go and enjoy my vacation. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to enjoy it.'"
Also at issue with Hamlin was that his owner didn't come to his rescue at Daytona and say he wasn't at fault. "We talked to Denny during the week," J.D. Gibbs said. "It was frustration, obviously. We had two good cars. That's happened in the past and it'll happen again in the future. Just deal with it the right way. We told Denny the way he handled it at the track he did a great job."
David Newton covers motorsports for ESPN.com.