NASCAR

NASCAR teams evaluate potential changes

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford parted company after the season ended.
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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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Obviously there are NASCAR Sprint Cup teams that are making changes to their lineup to improve from 2011.

Offseason changes

BIG MOVERS

Not all Cup stars are staying put after 2011. Who's on the move?

Let's face it, there is only one champion and his name is Tony Stewart. After that, everyone has to look in the mirror at what they can do better to make a run at the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

One team likely at the top of the list among those thankful the 2011 season ended is Joe Gibbs Racing. Yes, I know the organization's drivers won five Cup races this year, but look how the No. 20 team with Joey Logano ran. Look at the difference a year makes on that No. 11 team of Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin won eight races in 2010 and was vying for the championship all the way to the season finale at Homestead-Miami. This year, he only won one race and, unfortunately, wasn't even mentioned most weekends.

On top of all that, you had the well-publicized incidents, on and off the track, concerning Kyle Busch. There were 16 engine failures across the three teams. The organization is moving across the board to Toyota Racing Development engines. Jason Ratcliff, who has been a crew chief in the JGR Nationwide program, has been named Logano's crew chief, replacing Greg Zipadelli who left to go to Stewart-Haas Racing as their competition director. Championship-winning crew chief Darian Grubb moves from the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 to take over Hamli's group, replacing Mike Ford.

Another organization that has a lot of work to do is Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. It has got to figure out what happened to its program. In 2010, that organization won four races, including two of our biggest races of the year. This year was the complete opposite. Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray could barely even get top-10 finishes in 2011. Earnhardt Ganassi and Joe Gibbs Racing have to regroup.

I think it is somewhat harder to find the answers in the Earnhardt Ganassi camp. Both drivers struggled all year long. At least Joe Gibbs Racing enjoyed some success with a couple of its cars, so that group has a measuring stick by looking at what Busch did to win four races or what Hamlin's group did to win a race.

In addition to this, you have guys out there who probably won't know their futures until mid to late-January. What is David Ragan going to do? What about David Reutimann and Brian Vickers? Oh yeah, don't forget about Kurt Busch.

I've mentioned this before, but I feel bad for all the men and women who are without a job in NASCAR as the holidays are here. I've been blessed to have never been in that position, so I can only imagine the pain and stress these families are facing.

Helping hands

NASCAR drivers find a way to give back.

Just think about the flood of people forced out of the NASCAR marketplace. You had the two Red Bull Racing Sprint Cup teams shutting down. You have the No. 6 team without sponsorship, causing changes at Roush Fenway Racing. You have the No. 33 car at Richard Childress Racing shutting down. In addition to all that, you have all the employees of Kevin Harvick, Inc. struggling as that team has ceased to operate in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series.

Now, the upside is that there's a second chance for a lot of these people. Any owner, team manager and crew chief worth his salt in this sport is looking over the list of available people in hopes of improving a weak area on their team. It could be a gas man, a tire changer or even a public relations person.

It doesn't matter, because if you have a chance to improve any part of your organization, now is the opportunity with so many people out there looking for work due to no fault of their own.

Tagged: Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin

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