Hamlin is the calculated one, Gibbs said. Busch is more aggressive.
Each has his strengths and both styles have produced wins.
Hamlin has six Cup wins this year and enters the fourth race in the Chase at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Sunday in second place in the Chase standings, only eight points behind Jimmie Johnson, the four-time Cup champion.
Busch is seventh in the Cup standings, 80 points out of first, and has won three Cup races this season.
“We worked extremely hard to get ourselves in position where we could challenge,” Gibbs said. “The 48’s (Jimmie Johnson) the favorite and everybody knows that. Somebody’s going to have to catch them at some point. We have two guys who come at it a little different ways."
Busch won a Cup race in Fontana in 2005. Johnson has the most Cup wins at Fontana with five and has won the past three fall races at Auto Club Speedway.
Not many, not even Gibbs, will admit anyone other than Johnson is the favorite at Auto Club Speedway or the favorite to win the Chase. After four Cup championships in a row, it’s hard to pick against him.Gibbs said he wants both his drivers to come out of Fontana within striking distance of Johnson.
“I think it’s a big race, I think it’s a big race obviously in the Chase,” said Gibbs “I would say for us, when we get past L.A. is where we think we’re going to start hitting some tracks that we’ll run extremely well and have a great history. I think Jimmie Johnson won three out of four. It’s one thing to say that we’re pretty good, I think when you look at it, they’re going to be stout here. I think you got to try and put yourself in the best position you can to try and be up front, have a chance to win it, but also you don’t want them to get another big jump here.”
Gibbs said he thinks the tracks on the second half of the Chase schedule are better suited for his drivers. Hamlin won races at Martinsville Speedway and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year.
Johnson won races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway in last year’s Chase.
“I think if you would ask our guys, I think most of them feel like the first part of this Chase was going to be the toughest for us because there are places in there where we have not run well,” Gibbs said. “They were going to be our biggest challenges. For us, we aren’t going to be the favorite this weekend, but I think if we can get ourselves up front, and have a chance to be there at the end, I think it’s a huge deal for us. What you don’t want to have is a points drop to give them a big lead heading in to some of these other races where we think we’re going to be able to do real well.”
When the Chase started, Gibbs said Hamlin was the driver who had the edge over Busch because of Hamlin’s six wins. He’s already won at Martinsville and Texas Motor Speedway, two tracks the Cup Series will visit in the remaining six races of the Chase. But Busch has a tendency to win unexpectedly and win races in bunches.
“The way I describe them is Denny is really calculated and probably from a points standpoint is the guy that if his car’s a 12th he’s willing to take a 12th. Kyle, his general temperament is: I want to try to win, I don’t care what the car is,” Gibbs said. “From that standpoint, that’s kind of the difference in the two. One is more aggressive, the other one is more calculated.”
Which type of driving style will produce a championship has yet to be seen. Gibbs said he won’t know which style is more productive until both their careers are over. While Hamlin has shown he can win races and has put himself in position to challenge for the Cup championship, Busch has one advantage.
“Both of them are focused. I don’t think we’ll know until their careers are over who’s going to have a better chance at winning championships, what driving style helps,” Gibbs said. “I will say this, I think Kyle last year, winning the Nationwide championship, I think when he won that Nationwide championship I think it really helped him toward his Cup effort. He had to take a third, he had to take a fourth, he had to take a fifth on occasion and not get in trouble. I think that process over there really helped him over here.”