News & Media

JTG Daugherty ready to move ahead -- on its own

February 05, 2012, Joe Menzer,

Sometimes, even in racing, you have to go backward so you can eventually move forward.

That's the philosophy behind JTG Daugherty Racing's decision to leave its satellite home at Michael Waltrip Racing and return to the shop previously used by team owners Tad and Jodi Geshickter before they took on co-owner Brad Daugherty and formed the technical alliance with MWR. Prior to moving full time to Sprint Cup racing in 2009, the Geshickters had run a Nationwide Series team out of the Harrisburg, N.C., shop since 1995.

"I think we can get Bobby to Victory Lane."


"Without question, we have to take a step back to hopefully take three forward," Daugherty said recently.

Bobby Labonte again will drive the No. 47 Toyota in the Sprint Cup Series this season. But the team has a new crew chief and general manager in Todd Berrier, who joined the organization after 18 years with Richard Childress Racing, most recently as Kevin Harvick's crew chief. The organization also added former Toyota Racing Development engineer Laerte Zatta as director of engineering and, in general, is "starting with a clean slate" after struggling badly much of last season, according to Berrier.

Berrier said it wasn't until the beginning of November that the team was able to start moving into and upgrading the Harrisburg facility. That put the team behind before the 2012 season has even started, but like Daugherty, Berrier is confident that it will prove the best course of action in the long run.

The team purchased some old cars from MWR to get started this season and will get its engines from Toyota Racing Development, but eventually plans to build its own cars at the Harrisburg shop.

Meanwhile, Berrier has set the modest expectation of finishing 17th in the points standings this season. Daugherty said the goal was to finish within the top 20 after finishing 29th last year when Labonte's only top-five finish of the entire season came with a fourth in the Daytona 500.

"I think we can run 17th every week. I truthfully do," Berrier said. "Honestly, we can be very comfortable with our position as a company and our position with personnel and our position with cars, of having our own kind of entity, by April.

"Until then, we're going to be playing a little bit of catch-up. We started in the shop Nov. 1, so there were a lot of things that had to happen. We had to acquire equipment -- and when I say 'equipment,' I mean I'm talking about brakes and drill presses and parts and shelving, all that kind of stuff. So we've really had to ramp it up. I've even had to learn how to put sheet rock up. I've done all those kinds of things."

Daugherty gave a strong endorsement to Labonte, the 2000 Cup champion who last won a race in 2003 when he still drove for Joe Gibbs Racing.

"Bobby Labonte hasn't forgotten how to drive," Daugherty said. "That's why we hired Todd Berrier. I've known Todd a long time, and with his wisdom and knowledge of these race cars -- along with Laerte Zatta, who has come over from Toyota and is just a huge asset -- I think we can get Bobby to Victory Lane.

"We have to give him the platform, though. We didn't do that last year. You saw Bobby wreck some race cars last year; you've never seen Bobby Labonte wreck like that before. He wrecked our race cars because he was driving his guts out, and some of our cars just weren't very good. We didn't give him the right opportunity."

Labonte added: "I'm excited. My confidence level is up. Brad's obviously is, and hopefully we can look for some good things. It's going to be a long road and a lot of work -- it's already been that to get to this point -- and we all know there is a lot more right in front of us. ... But I think if we all have confidence in each other, we'll make good things happen."

Daugherty said a plan already is in place to add a second car to the fold for next season, adding that "it's a distinct possibility" JTG could field a second car in a handful of races later this season.

"We're already working on it," Daugherty said. "That's something that's going to happen sooner rather than later, because we need that. That's as big as we want to be, though. The cost comes down and the information goes way up. So we're really working on that."

Meanwhile, the organization will look to take baby steps and claim small victories whenever it can, even if that means celebrating a 17th-place finish for now.

"I think by mid-season we'll have a clear snapshot of what we need to do to get better. It's going to be hard to battle the multi-car teams, no question about it," Daugherty said.

"But to say we're going to take a step backward to eventually take three giant steps forward, that's exactly right. How long is it going to take to make that happen? Hopefully we can do just that within the next 24 months."