Sprint Cup team preview: Joe Gibbs Racing
January 26, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
Toyota team aims to build upon stability in 2014
-- Placed two of its three drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2013 and accumulated 12 combined race victories, the most ever for the organization in a single season. The team's previous best had been 11 in 2010, when Denny Hamlin won eight times and Kyle Busch three.
-- Hamlin missed all of four races, and most of a fifth in 2013 after breaking a vertebra in his lower back in a final-lap crash with Joey Logano in March at Fontana. The injury was partially responsible for Hamlin missing the Chase for the first time in his career.
-- Matt Kenseth's first season with the organization resulted in a career year, one in which he led the series and recorded a personal best with seven race victories. In his first season after leaving Roush Fenway Racing, he also led the standings late in the year and finished second, 19 points behind Jimmie Johnson, in the championship race.
2014 Driver Lineup
Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota; Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota; Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota
Kenseth's first campaign in JGR equipment was a smashing success, and the veteran came 19 points short of being the first driver since 1981 to win a title in his debut season with a new team. He bonded quickly with crew chief Jason Ratcliff and felt immediately comfortable in JGR cars. The program's only misstep was a setup whiff at Phoenix that allowed Johnson to build an insurmountable margin entering the final race of the year.
Kenseth's good fortune rubbed off on Busch, who finished a personal-best fourth in final points and won four times, although he's still searching for his first Chase race victory since his rookie season. Kenseth and Busch finished first and second, respectively, in each of the first two playoff races, and remained in the same positions in the standings until Busch crashed at Kansas.
Hamlin's comeback from injury was stalled by setup issues and lingering back discomfort, which he said finally responded to treatment late in the year. He certainly looked better in the finale at Homestead, where he recorded a victory to keep alive his personal streak of winning a race every year.
Hendrick Motorsports may have another championship trophy and the new additions at Stewart-Haas Racing may have generated all the offseason headlines, but with everyone healthy JGR remains a serious contender for the most potent lineup in the sport. All three drivers return along with their respective crew chiefs, looking to build upon one of the best seasons in team history.
Can they top 2013? Kenseth, as steady it gets, gives no reason to believe he'll take a step back. Hamlin's back is a concern, but improved performance at the end of last season offered promise for 2014. And Busch, as talented as it gets, is overdue for another breakout season on par with his eight-win campaign in 2008. Stability is not an issue, and getting all three drivers into the Chase should be just the beginning.