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Team Preview: Joe Gibbs Racing
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By Larry McReynolds
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
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.