Change is the word for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015
The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is one of major change for the Joe Gibbs Racing organization.
While drivers Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth all return to the organization, JGR has expanded to add a fourth team with Carl Edwards as the driver. In addition to the fourth team, JGR has shuffled its driver-crew chief lineup — with Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff the only 2014 pairing that remained intact.
After years of planning, the timing finally seemed right for the organization that got its start in 1992 to make the leap to four teams. Still anxious about the fourth team, team owner Joe Gibbs said the organization undertook tedious efforts to plan out the expansion.
"I think what you always worry about is your focus," Gibbs said. "I think we tried to plan. Our building is built for four. We had enough cars. It was going to be about the people. So our biggest challenge was to get the right people. I really think we’ve done a really good job at that. We won’t know until we get out there. But I think we’ve handled things as well as you can handle them."
Making the leap from Roush Fenway Racing, Carl Edwards is eager to get on the track with his new team.
"I’m just excited to get to learn from these guys and to race under the JGR banner for Toyota," Edwards said during Monday’s Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. "We had a great test at Charlotte. I’m really ready to go. I’ve been wearing my driver’s suit a lot."
When Edwards went to work for JGR, he was surprised by the openness and level of confidence the people had in him right away.
"Basically there was no getting to know you period," said Edwards. "They walked in and said, ‘Here’s everything we know and here’s what we’re trying to do.’ That’s been amazing. They had a huge level of trust right off the bat. That’s really nice. It’s kind of shocking in a way."
As if adding a new team and expanding personnel was not enough, JGR shuffled its driver-crew chief lineup for three of its four teams. Veteran crew chief Darian Grubb moved over to work with Edwards, Dave Rogers will now call the shots for Hamlin, and Adam Stevens made the jump from the Xfinity Series to lead Busch’s No. 18 team.
"We have three different changes there at crew chief. I think that’s going to be an exciting thing to watch and see how they all fit together," Gibbs said.
Following a 2013 season in which the team won 12 races, JGR struggled out of the gate in 2014 and only went to Victory Lane twice all year. Despite the struggles, all three JGR drivers made the 16-driver Chase field, with Hamlin advancing to the Championship 4.
Through the first half of the 2014 season, the drivers often complained about lacking horsepower, while being unable to keep up with the Chevrolets and Fords down the straightaway.
With the new rules package handed down from NASCAR, one of the biggest changes was a reduction of horsepower. With this reduction, the prevailing thought is that the Sprint Cup cars will now run similar to how the NASCAR Xfinity Series cars have in the past — with slower overall speed, faster corner speed, and less time off the throttle.
Given the reduction in horsepower and the success the organization has had in recent years in the Xfinity Series, does that mean the new rules will play into the hands of JGR?
While that might be easy to assume, the drivers are not so quick to jump to that conclusion.
"We’d certainly like to hope so. Whether it is or isn’t, we don’t know yet," said Busch.
Busch pointed out that if a Toyota engine is lacking horsepower to a Chevrolet engine, that difference in power is going to remain when the tapered spacer is implemented.
"It’s not necessarily that we’re going to make gains by putting a plate on it. I don’t feel that way, anyway," he said.
Hamlin is a bit more optimistic about the change, but remains realistic about the reduction of horsepower.
"Obviously, competition level is much different in Cup than it is in the Xfinity Series," said Hamlin. "To say that those cars have tapered spacers and we run great, now that they’re putting on tapered spacers (on Cup cars) we should be great, it’s probably a little bit naive, but hopefully it translates a little bit to our success. We’re looking for anything, any kind of advantage we can get."
For Busch, last year’s struggles were more on the team than the motors, and the team has been rectifying the issue since before the Chase started. He credited Toyota Racing Development for bringing a new package to the table and helping the organization pick up speed.
"They probably aren’t as far behind as we all thought they were from the beginning to the end of the year and now coming up to 2014," said Busch. "I feel like what we were really behind on was cars, chassis, bodies, us just not doing our job."
Busch is confident the organization has turned those issues around, and the results will show once the green flag drops on the 2015 season.