Team Preview: Joe Gibbs Racing

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By Larry McReynolds Obviously, Joe Gibbs Racing surpassed everyone's expectations in 2008 by a wide margin. To bring on a new driver for the No. 18 car at the start of the season, manage a switch in manufacturers at the start of the season and deal with the distraction of your 10-year veteran announcing he was leaving at the end of the year ... whew. You can see that JGR dealt with a lot, yet they were able to qualify all three of their teams into the Chase and also pick up 10 wins last season — that's definitely way above everyone's expectations. That said, they are still going to have to ramp it up a little bit this year. For instance, that No. 18 team needs to learn from their mistakes in last year's Chase, which I bet they will. Kyle Busch needs to keep doing what he needs to do, but his team needs to eliminate the mistakes. Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team were up and down, so they need to work on consistency. Of course, the team under the microscope this year is the No. 20 car with Joey Lagano behind the wheel. That team doesn't need to think about what Tony Stewart did in that racecar. They can't set their expectations around what Stewart did. They need to set their own expectations and not worry about the fans and the media. If they can do that, I think they will be just fine. They just need to build their foundation during 2008 that will carry them long into the future. I have always said that Busch has more talent than the law allows. If there is an area where Busch needs to improve, it's when things are going bad. You can't be the best interview and the best person on earth when you are winning and then the worst interview and the worst person on earth when things are not good. Carl Edwards is a great example of the point I am trying to make. He is a good upbeat person when he wins and a good upbeat person when he isn't winning. To be a good leader, you have to be pretty consistent in your character whether you are winning or losing. I think Busch could take the leadership role on a Joe Gibbs Racing that was vacated by Stewart's departure, but it's going to depend on how they run.

Driver outlook

By Mike Harmon Denny Hamlin — Driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Hamlin nearly replicated his 2007 season last year. The fourth-year starter matched his 2007 total with 22 top-15s, 18 top-10s and 12 top-five finishes. Hamlin did regress marginally in his average qualifying slot (down 2.9 slots) and his average finish (down 1.4 positions). He had two additional DNFs in 2008 to help account for that minor dip in final stat line. However, I believe that the level of consistency demonstrated in the past two seasons gives us a great sense of what to expect. Kyle Busch — Driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota Busch took a dramatic leap forward in his overall performance last season, winning eight races in 2008 after securing just one victory in 2007. He had seven poles (zero in 2007) and raced to 17 top-fives — six more than the previous year. Despite the top-heavy performances, Busch's average finish improved only 1.6 slots. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Toyota hit the proverbial wall to open the Chase and kept Busch from challenging for the title. Busch raced outside the top 25 in the first three events of the Chase to create an insurmountable deficit. He closed the year with four top-10 finishes in his final six starts, and I suspect that Busch and his team have regrouped and will be ready to roll. Obviously, he's always a risk for a lower-tier finish because of some of his daring moves, but the reward is definitely worth it. Joey Logano — Driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota The departure of Tony Stewart from Joe Gibbs Racing thrusts Logano behind the wheel of the storied No. 20 Home Depot car. The 18-year-old prodigy has been hailed as "the next big thing" for quite some time following his brilliant performances at every level along the path to "the show." Logano won his first Nationwide event just after turning 18 and rolled to 14 top-10s in his first 19 starts on that circuit. That level of performance makes him a mighty intriguing driver to watch in 2009.

Closing number

By Jorge A. Mondaca 106 If either Hamlin or Busch want to be a true title contender, they need to find their way up front during the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Through the first 26 races of the season last year, the duo combined to lead 2,333 laps (Busch led the most overall, 1,633). During the playoffs, however, they combined to lead a mere 106 circuits.
Tagged: Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin

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