JGR running out of time to salvage season
Who would have thought that a company such as Joe Gibbs Racing — on the NASCAR scene since 1992 — would suffer growing pains in 2009?
With Senior Vice President Jimmy Makar running the day-to-day operation, Mark Cronquist in the engine shop and crew chiefs Greg Zipadelli, Mike Ford and Steve Addington, JGR's foundation hasn't changed in years. Yet after Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, only one of its teams is in position to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
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So what's changed since last year, when all three of JGR's cars qualified for NASCAR's playoffs?
The difference is that the company is still in its infancy with manufacturer Toyota. Also, with the testing ban and no satellite team since Hall of Fame Racing partnered with Yates Racing at the end of last season, there's no outlet for Gibbs to incorporate the latest technology into the cars. The technology issue is exacerbated by drivers' inability to offer solid feedback to the crew chiefs.
Since Tony Stewart's departure, the average age of JGR's driver stable is 24. Certainly, Stewart had his mercurial moments, but he was a champion in every sense of the word. The communication skills of the remaining racers — Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano — are not at a level where the engineers can decipher the data to produce results.
Despite the credentials of veteran chief Zipadelli, he's still dealing with a novice in Logano, 19, who can't yet contribute sizably to his teammates. Hamlin, 28, has been the most consistent of the JGR drivers, even though his team has suffered its share of setbacks, such as the driveshaft misfortune on Lap 33 Sunday at Indy. The No. 11 Toyota sacrificed 16 laps for repairs, finished 34th and fell to sixth in the standings.
And then there's Busch. Some consider Rowdy to be the finest raw talent in the garage. But at 24, he's still searching for balance between his best days and his worst.
Over the last two races at Chicago and Indianapolis — when the No. 18 Toyota finished 33rd and 38th, respectively — Busch fell from eighth in the standings to 14th, out of the Chase Zone with six races remaining in the regular season.