NASCAR team preview: Joe Gibbs Racing

BY Jeff Hammond • January 18, 2010

Overall, this team had a great 2009. All three of the teams at JGR scored wins and had very successful seasons. In fact, Denny Hamlin was the man at the end of the year.

What's going to be interesting is seeing whether the two young bucks at Joe Gibbs Racing, Hamlin and Kyle Busch, produce the kind of chemistry that will allow Joey Logano to keep growing and getting better results. Will there be harmony or will this turn into a situation where the three teams cannot work together to achieve their goals? There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to how this trio will cooperate.

We know that Busch is frustrated because he didn't qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2009, even though he did win the Nationwide Series championship. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli has a good understanding of Logano now, so he is going to want more out of this young man. Long story short, this is a year of high expectations.

They will be good, the question now is how good will they be and will they be good together? My concern is that Joe Gibbs will have his hands full, but what I have found out about Joe and J.D. Gibbs is that they love playing with sharks and are not afraid of challenges. They like personalities that can be explosive and somewhat uncontrollable. Talent wise, they have some of the best. It's just a matter of getting them all to get along when they need to.

JGR is strong in their crew chief department. The leadership of Jimmy Makar, senior vice president of racing operations, is always going to be rock solid as long as he is involved in the sport.

As long as they have harmony, they will be successful. But if one driver gets further ahead of the others, it might create a tough situation.

The other component that has to be looked at is Kyle Busch's growing team. He's had a team for a few years now, but he moved it up to the Camping World Truck Series this year. Will that increase in responsibilities be a positive or a negative? He's got plenty of energy and he's a racer, but he's got to be careful that it doesn't become too much of a distraction to his Cup goals.

Nothing has been written or said to suggest problems at JGR, but all the ingredients are there. When you start mixing gun powder and nitroglycerin with gasoline, there's a definite possibility that there could be an explosion if somebody puts a match to it at the right place at the right time.

No matter what, this will be a fun team to watch.

Larry McReynolds' take

Based on what I saw at the end of last season, the only operation that looks poised to give Hendrick Motorsports a run for their money is Joe Gibbs Racing — in particular the No. 11 team and driver Denny Hamlin. That No. 11 group may have been the best performing team during the last third of the 2009 season aside from two engine failures and a mistake by the driver at California. And even when he fell out of a race, Hamlin may have had the best race car on those days.

This is the only operation and only team that I sit here today and have a real fuzzy, warm feeling that they can contend with Hendrick and in particular, the four-time defending champion No. 48 team.

Starting lineup

by Mike Harmon

Team #11
Driver: Denny Hamlin (Finished fifth in the 2009 Cup standings, 8 career Cup wins)
Crew chief: Mike Ford
Primary Sponsor: FedEx

Hamlin has become a steady, efficient performer for Joe Gibbs Racing. The variance in his overall performance has been small, although the No. 11 Toyota finally broke through the pack and produced four wins. Hamlin had won only four races in the prior three seasons combined. He's been remarkably consistent, having averaged a 14.9-position qualifying slot and 14.4-position finish in his career.

Team #18
Driver: Kyle Busch (Finished 13th in the 2009 Cup standings, 16 career Cup wins)
Crew chief: Dave Rogers (First full season as crew chief of No. 18 team)
Primary Sponsor: M&M's

Busch's overall performance didn't change much in 2009, as his average finish only dipped by 2.9 slots compared to the previous season. But while Busch managed to avoid the catastrophic finishes to races and reduced his number of DNFs from seven to one, he also produced eight fewer top-10 finishes (and eight fewer top-fives) than he posted in 2008. Might he get a little more "Rowdy" like in 2010? JGR and his legion of fans sure hope so.

Team #20
Driver: Joey Logano (Finished 20th in the 2009 Cup standings during his rookie year, 1 career Cup win)
Crew chief: Greg Zipadelli
Primary Sponsors: Home Depot

Logano dipped his toe into the Sprint Cup Series waters in 2008 by appearing in three events. He dove in head-first in 2009 and performed brilliantly in his first full season on the circuit. Logano produced seven top-10 finishes (three top fives) and basically finished where he started on average (20.5-position qualifying slot and 20th-position finish). Logano certainly had his issues early last season as he ran 30th or worse in five of his first seven starts. He gained momentum during the season and should make a charge in his sophomore campaign. Logano leads any list of "breakthrough" or "sleeper" drivers for 2010.

Inside line

by Jorge A. Mondaca

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