Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing tired of sucking and not knowing why

Despite third-place finish on Sunday, Hamlin frustrated with teams performance this season

Peter Casey—USA Today Sports
NASCAR Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) during the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

RICHMOND — Denny Hamlin led 59 laps, had two of the best pit stops on the afternoon and finished inside the top five — third, to be exact — for the first time in 2017.Sounds like the makings of a good day, right? Not if you listened to Hamlin during his post-race press conference. While he attempted to focus on the positives, Hamlin couldn’t quite steer clear of calling out his team’s performance throughout the season.”There’s not much concern,” Hamlin said. “Because we know where we need to work. We know where we need to get better. The tough part is, you know, sucking and not knowing why. That’s the tough part. At least if you know why you can go to work in those areas. …”I’m not really worried. It’s just frustrating.”See how that can be confusing? That’s been the consensus for Joe Gibbs Racing so far this season. Even when drivers like Matt Kenseth wins the pole and 164 laps — his first laps led of the entire season — he finishes 23rd. Despite leading 407 total laps, Kyle Busch has twice as many finishes of 15th or worse (6) than top 10s (3) on the year.Richmond was supposed to change all that. While there were glimpses of improvement on the track, Hamlin remained discouraged that he wasn’t truly able to compete for a win at the end.”Yeah, it was about as good as we had,” Hamlin said. “You know, we just didn’t have the speed that the other cars had. But we optimized our day. It’s the best we could do. We finished right where we should have.”So does he see any progress after he and Kenseth combined for 223 laps led out of 400 on Sunday?”We haven’t gotten better,” Hamlin said bluntly. “We’re really right where we were. [If] we go to a 1.5 mile track next week, we’re just as far off as we were a week ago. It’s literally just a small track, so drivers make a little more difference. Aerodynamics, skew and all that stuff doesn’t matter quite as much. …”I hate to be pessimistic about today, but you have to realize, ‘Hey, it’s just a small track.’ We still have a lot of work to do to catch up.”Even with Hamlin’s strong finish, the frustration is still mounting for JGR. Only Hamlin and Busch, at 11th and 10th in points, respectively, would even make the cut for the playoffs if the season ended today. Kenseth and Daniel Suarez, on the other hand, are at 18th and 22nd, respectively, and outside the window.Luckily, the season doesn’t end today. Richmond was only the ninth race of the year and there are still 17 events left before the cutoff. But with more than a third of the regular season already complete, the need for a win is clearly ratcheted up for Gibbs heading into May.One stat to leave y’all with: The last season where Gibbs didn’t win a race through the first nine starts was 2007, the program’s final year with Chevrolet and the last year it was a two-car team. Since then, JGR has failed to string together multiple wins just once in 2014, but Hamlin notched the second win in Talladega.That’s not the side of history Gibbs wants to be on. After sending all four cars to the playoffs in the last two seasons, the team needs a major facelift heading into the summer to ensure at least half of its drivers make the field.