Positive change: Drivers who've made moves that are paying off
We've seen in these last few years where some high-profile NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have made team changes and it really raised their game.
Kevin Harvick's move to Stewart-Haas Racing was a wise one.
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images North America
By Jeff Hammond
We've seen in these last few years where some high-profile drivers have made team changes and it really raised their game. Last year you had Matt Kenseth driving for Joe Gibbs Racing and winning seven times in his first season with the organization. Joey Logano, whom Matt replaced at JGR, went to Team Penske and has really come into his own as we saw Saturday night. Don't forget two years ago Kurt Busch was still trying to rehabilitate his image and career in our sport, which led him to Furniture Row Racing and that team's best season ever. Now this season you have Kevin Harvick and Kurt at Stewart-Haas Racing.
I get asked this same question by fans all the time -- why did the change work? I think it's a combination of things, but one of the big reasons is that it's something new and fresh. Matt wanted to prove he could still win races and contend for a championship even by making this switch so deep into his career. You can say the same thing about Kevin Harvick. For both of them, it simply was time for a change.
Joey wanted to prove that JGR shouldn't have let him get away. Joey's already won three races, the most in any season of his career, and we still have 12 races left. For Kurt it was another step forward in getting back to his ultimate goal of being with a high-profile team as he is now with Stewart-Haas.
It's the excitement of being somewhere and working with a group that is equally as excited that you are there. All four drivers had things they wanted to prove. The four teams also had something to prove. So it's like everyone is on their best behavior to make their programs work.
Both sides realize this is a new chance and a new start, if you will, to showcase their talent. Working and communicating well with each other allows them to move their programs forward and end up in Victory Lane. At the end of the day, then the sponsors are happy, and in the sponsor-driven sport that NASCAR is, that's all that matters.
All four of the drivers I mentioned saw the opportunity before them and took advantage of it. Joey is now considered a serious contender for a championship where before he was always being labeled as "not living up to his potential." He sure has sent those naysayers packing this year.
With Matt you get a rock-solid, steady performer. You just never saw Matt win a lot of races. Last year he set the sport on fire with a brand new team, brand new crew chief, brand new car and a brand new manufacturer by winning seven races. All that plus he came ever so close to winning the 2013 championship. Granted, he isn't enjoying anywhere near the same success this year, but I really don't lay that at Matt's feet or even at the feet of Joe Gibbs Racing. I put that more on Toyota as a whole than anyone else. Unfortunately, the Toyotas in 2014 have been down a little bit in comparison to the Fords and Chevrolets when it comes to horsepower, and that's really hurt them this season so far.
Both Kevin and Kurt, despite being with new teams and new crew chiefs, are already locked into this year's Chase. Kevin is seventh in the points with two wins. Kurt is 22nd in the points with one win.
Actually all four drivers are in the Chase. Despite not having won this year, Matt is fifth in the points, and with only two races remaining before the Chase, he definitely will be one of the 16 Chase drivers. If you look at where they all were just a couple of years ago to where they are now, you can easily say it's been the right choice for all four.
From the "What Should Have Been/What Could Have Been" file, I think I would have to say Kevin Harvick is the one to keep your eye on in the Chase. That's not to take anything away from Joey, either. I am so proud of Joey, who was once labeled the "the greatest thing since sliced bread," but unfortunately never lived up to the hype. Now he is, and while Joey might not be a slice of bread -- he might actually turn out to be a little slice of heaven.