Season in Review: Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin
The 2014 season may have not gone the way Joe Gibbs Racing may envisioned as the season featured several high and low points for the team. Although all members of JGR clinched their spot into the Chase, they fell short of a championship.
For Denny Hamlin, the year may have gotten off to a great start. Winning the first race of the year -- the Sprint Unlimited, a non-points race -- showed that Hamlin had some raw speed early on. He showed some dominance while racing at Daytona as he captured a second-place finish in the Daytona 500.
It seemed as if Hamlin was going to be a contender at the start of the season until the No. 11 team started to hit a slump towards the middle of the year. Regardless, he captured his only win of the season at Talladega, securing himself a spot into the chase field.
When it came to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Hamlin stepped it up and qualified into every round of the new Chase format. He managed to finish in the top 10 in seven of the 10 chase races. Despite running up front in the final race of the year, he went on to finish third among the championship hopefuls.
While missing out on the championship and being the only JGR driver with the opportunity, Hamlin went on to capture a win, three poles, seven top fives and 18 top-10 finishes throughout 2014. He was also the only driver to make the Chase field who did not compete in all 36 races, as he missed the race at Auto Club Speedway with a piece of metal in his eye and was substituted with Sam Hornish Jr. Hamlin also went six weeks without his crew chief Darian Grubb, who suspended, with Mike Wheeler taking over duties. He also averaged a 14.5 start and a 14.3 finish.
The 2014 season also happened to be Hamlin’s best season since his championship run in 2010 -- where he finished in second in points behind eventual champion Jimmie Johnson. He may have finished in the top three in his second championship run, but he did not match the consistency that he had several years ago.
Meanwhile, JGR teammate Kyle Busch had some trouble throughout the year. Busch started off the year strong within the first few races. He accomplished his best result of 2014 with a win at Auto Club Speedway, securing himself into the Chase. Following Fontana, he went on to finish among the top 15 in the five races after that event before hitting a speed bump.
Busch’s performance hit a snag at the Dover spring race. Despite starting on the front row and having speed at a track where he has found success in the past, it seemed as if that had not mattered as he finished in 42nd after getting into a wreck on the front straightaway. At Pocono the following week, Busch managed to bounce back with a 12th-place finish, but the following weeks brought him back down in the standings. At Michigan, he went on to finish in 41st-place and captured a 25th-place finish at Sonoma.
The following four weeks saw Busch finish as the runner-up in three out the four races at Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis. Then it went back to a roller coaster ride as Busch’s results went back down at Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol. Within those four races, his best result was a 36th-place finish.
As the year went on and as the chase approached, Busch begin to improve and managed to capture a couple of top 10 finishes.
Once the Chase was under way, he was one of the most consistent drivers within the first five races – finishing in the top 10. It seemed as if he was going to transfer into the Eliminator 8 round of the Chase until he got into a major wreck at Talladega. While trying to avoid the pack and any possibility of damage, Busch stayed towards the back of the field but was taken out after contact with Austin Dillon on the backstretch.
While the No.18 team did all they could to remain in the Chase during the race at Talladega, they were eliminated as Brad Keselowski – a driver on the bubble – captured the win and automatically moved onto the next round. With Keselowski winning and regardless of being among the top eight in points, Busch was pushed out of the eight drivers moving on, thus ending his championship hopes.
The 2014 season happened to be a step back for Busch with a 10th-place finish in the point standings and only one triumph at Fontana compared to his 2013 stats.
In 2014, Busch captured three poles, nine top fives and 15 top 10 finishes. He averaged a 13.1 start and 17.6 finish. Compared to the prior season, he results deteriorated with JGR struggling to get adjusted to the new rule’s package on the intermediate tracks as he captured four wins, three poles, 16 top fives and 22 top 10 finishes in 2013, along with an average 9.1 start and 12.7 finish.
Heading into 2015, both Busch and Hamlin will get a fresh start. Within weeks of the completion of the 2014 season, Joe Gibbs Racing announced crew chief changes.
For 2015, Hamlin will now be partnered with Dave Rogers, who was Busch’s former crew chief. Darian Grubb -- who was with Hamlin since the 2012 season -- will move to the new No.19 team with JGR’s newest addition, Carl Edwards. Throughout the three years that Hamlin was with Grubb, they managed to capture seven wins.
Meanwhile, Busch and Rogers found some success during their time together. Since the 2010 season, the duo captured 13 wins.
Busch will now be paired with Adam Stevens. Busch and Stevens have worked together within JGR’s Nationwide Series No. 54 team, and have found an abundance of success. Together, they have captured 19 wins for JGR within the past two seasons.
The crew chief swap could provide a new spark into JGR. For Busch, the pairing with Stevens allows for both to continue on what they have accomplished in the Nationwide Series, but this time, trying it out in a more competitive series. For Hamlin, it would be a reunion of sorts as he has worked with Rogers in the past during his Nationwide tenure.
Whether the former pairings did work or not, both teams will have an opportunity to improve from what was not a stellar season. A new year and new season means new opportunities for both drivers in their quests of trying to win a championship.