2015 was the year of Joe Gibbs Racing. The team was able to take the checkered flag 14 times over the span of the 36-race season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, evidently winning the championship with Kyle Busch. The Gibbs organization will look to keep up its dominance in 2016.
At the end of 2015, JGR announced that there would be crew chief changes beginning at the Daytona 500. Mike Wheeler was announced as the new crew chief for Denny Hamlin, replacing Dave Rogers. Rogers, formerly the crew chief for Denny Hamlin, is moving over to lead the No. 19 team with Carl Edwards, replacing Darian Grubb, who was left without a job before returning to Hendrick Motorsports.
Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens would remain intact after a championship-winning season. Matt Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff are coming off an impressive five-win season and will continue to work together for the fourth consecutive season.
Team owner Joe Gibbs believed that it was in everyone’s best interest to make changes even after having one of the best seasons in team history. The organization is coming off of a season where it tallied 45 top-five finishes and racked up 71 top 10s. Gibbs thinks that the current driver lineup is one of the best that the team has ever had. However, he was hesitant to say that his team is the best in the garage.
“I know in pro sports that one thing doesn’t guarantee anything for the next year,” Gibbs said on Tuesday at the NASCAR Media Tour. “I do feel good about our guys and our crew chiefs. Professional sports are hard. In 2013, we had one of our best years, but in 2014 we had our worst year. In professional sports, it can go south in a hurry.”
Busch will have the same exact team as he did last year, and will be one of the favorites for the championship heading into the new season. After recording five victories in just 25 races in 2015, Busch is looking to build on his success in 2016.
The reigning Cup champion will continue to bounce ideas off of his teammates in order for the team to be successful.
“I feel like we are one of the top teams, if not the top team in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition,” Busch said. “With the drivers and crew chiefs we have, I feel like everything could go down the path that it did last year with strong runs, race wins and competing for championships. We almost put two of our cars in the championship race if Carl [Edwards] had a few more points at Phoenix to be able to move on through. We have a lot of good things coming up.”
Like Busch, the No. 20 team will also have the same crew as they did in 2015. Kenseth won five times last season after going winless in 2014. The 43-year-old driver believes that his team will be just as good, if not better than they were in 2015.
He led 927 laps in 2015, the most out of all four drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing. He had a stretch of races in August and September where he won four out of eight races, but during the second round of the Chase, his championship hopes ended. Coming off of the season where he was suspended for two races for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville, Kenseth is looking to lean off his teammates and taking the next step as an organization.
“I feel like obviously I’ve got great teammates,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s what you don’t see that makes is so successful. They all put in the time, work and the effort and give good feedback. Those guys are good and they work really hard at it.”
Edwards on the other hand experienced an adjustment period for the first half of 2015 with his new team. In the first half of the season, the No. 19 team only found the top-10 three times. It was in the second half of the season that Grubb and he began to find consistency and made a run that had them fall just short of making it to the championship race at Homestead.
Statistically speaking, the move to JGR was very similar as 2014 when Edwards drove for Roush Fenway Racing. He finished the season with seven top-five finishes and rallied to have 15 top 10’s. There were many challenges that the team faced in the first season, but it is about the people for the Missouri native. The people are the reason that he jumped over to drive a Toyota and attempt to win his first career Cup championship.
“I’ve never worked with a better group of drivers,” Edwards said of his teammates. “This group right here is just spectacular. I would put these guys up against anyone in the garage. Every week, I’m motivated and pushed by these guys. I would say that we’re going to have a pretty good year if we can just do the things that we’ve been doing. It’s going to be great.”
If it wasn’t for a roof-flap that came loose at Talladega, there is a good chance that Hamlin would have been competing for his first Cup title. Unfortunately for the No. 11 team, bad luck has haunted them at the most inopportune time throughout Hamlin’s stint as the driver. Back in 2011, he had a 15-point lead heading into the season finale, but ultimately lost the championship to Jimmie Johnson.
2016 will look to be a different story for the Virginia native. Coming off of a season where he finished with 14 top fives, more than he had total in 2013 and 2014, he believes that this season could be the season that JGR elevates to the top race season in NASCAR.
“I think we can repeat what we did last year,” Hamlin said. “There is no reason why we can’t win half of the races and win the championship, especially with the group of drivers and crew chiefs that we have to work with. There is no reason why we can’t have success, especially knowing that we were successful with this low-downforce package last year.”
All four of the JGR drivers will be among the favorites for the championship. If the drivers can continue to work closely together there is no telling where JGR can go, and possibly establish the organization as the best team in NASCAR.