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2021 season preview: Joe Gibbs Racing

Today’s Joe Gibbs Racing preview continues NASCAR.com’s countdown of team previews for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, ranked in reverse order of best finish in last year’s owner standings.

MORE: Changes to know for 2021 season

JOE GIBBS RACING

Manufacturer: Toyota
Engine: Toyota Racing Development
Driver-crew chief pairings: Denny Hamlin-Chris Gabehart (No. 11), Kyle Busch-Ben Beshore (No. 18), Martin Truex Jr.-James Small (No. 19), Christopher Bell-Adam Stevens (No. 20)

What’s new: Goodbye, Erik Jones. Hello, Christopher Bell. The No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has a new pilot for 2021. Bell spent his rookie season with Leavine Family Racing but was picked up after the fellow Toyota organization announced its sale back in August; LFR ceased operations at the conclusions of the 2020 season. (Jones, meanwhile, moved to Richard Petty Motorsports.) And to add to the newness of the No. 20 team, Adam Stevens will be atop the pit box rather than Chris Gayle, who previously worked with Jones. Yes, that means the two-time Cup Series championship duo of Stevens and driver Kyle Busch split up after six seasons and 28 wins together. Ben Beshore will now call the shots as the No. 18 crew chief, moving up from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series with JGR.

RELATED: Joe Gibbs Racing sets 2021 crew-chief lineup

Team outlook: Denny Hamlin was the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver to make it into the Championship 4 last season. Compare that to 2019 when three out of the four title contenders were from the JGR camp. Placing more than one car in that final battle would be a step back in the right direction, or just having more than one driver with a multi-win season again.

Racing Insights’ stats break: The 2020 season was, by Joe Gibbs Racing standards, a letdown. After winning a modern-era record 19 times in 2019, the team won only nine times in 2020. Of the teams nine wins, Denny Hamlin accounted for seven and still failed to win the championship.

Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 19: NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin poses for a photo during the 2021 NASCAR Production Days at FOX Sports Studios on January 19, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Experience: 16th full-time season in NASCAR Cup Series
2020 stats: 4th in final standings; seven wins, 18 top fives and 21 top 10s
2020 final Fantasy Live ranking: 2nd
2021 championship odds: 8-1

Outlook: Last season was definitely not Denny Hamlin’s worst, far from it. He was the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver to win more than once, tallying a total of seven victories, and qualify for the Championship 4. Though he had a career-best 9.3 average finish, his career high in wins remains the eight in 2010 when he finished runner-up overall. So, there’s still room for improvement, especially given the fact Hamlin has yet to win a championship. That’s really all he has left to accomplish, unless he wants to hit double digits in the season win column. This will be his third year with crew chief Chris Gabehart, and so far, they’ve finished fourth together twice in the final standings. Also, as a reminder, Hamlin has his own Cup Series team in the running with 23XI Racing and driver Bubba Wallace.

RELATED: Denny Hamlin, Michael Jordan partner to form 2021 NASCAR Cup Series team

Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 19: NASCAR driver Kyle Busch poses for a photo during the 2021 NASCAR Production Days at FOX Sports Studios on January 19, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Experience: 17th full-time season in NASCAR Cup Series
2020 stats: 8th in final standings; 1 win, 14 top fives and 20 top 10s
2020 final Fantasy Live ranking: 8th
2021 championship odds: 7-1

Outlook: Well, Kyle Busch extended his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to 16. That’s basically the only highlight from 2020. The reigning champion managed to win only one race, and the victory didn’t come until the 34th event of the 36-race schedule – Texas Motor Speedway in the postseason. Busch was already eliminated from the playoff picture at that point, too. He and long-time crew chief Adam Stevens separated at the end of the frustrating season, and now Ben Beshore is set to climb atop Busch’s pit box in 2021. Busch and Beshore have worked together briefly in the past – three Cup Series races in 2017 and seven Xfinity Series races in 2019 with four wins – so Beshore won’t be a completely foreign voice in Busch’s ear. (Beshore spent last season with the Xfinity Series’ four-win Rookie of the Year, Harrison Burton, another Joe Gibbs Racing driver.) Ah, and one more thing: Last time Busch didn’t have a multi-win season was 2014, and in 2015, he came back to win the championship, even after missing 11 races due to injury.

RELATED: Inside Ben Beshore’s path to NASCAR Cup Series

Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Toyota

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 20: NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. poses for a photo during the 2021 NASCAR Production Days at FOX Sports Studios on January 20, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Experience: 16th full-time season in NASCAR Cup Series
2020 stats: 7th in final standings; 1 win, 14 top fives and 23 top 10s
2020 final Fantasy Live ranking: 5th
2021 championship odds: 8-1

Outlook: Martin Truex Jr. visited Victory Lane only once in 2020 – Martinsville Speedway during the regular season. That’s a major drop from the seven wins recorded in 2019. This past year, though, was his first without crew chief Cole Pearn since 2015, a timespan that included Truex’s sole title in 2017. James Small took over pit-box responsibilities after Pearn retired with the 2019 schedule’s conclusion. So now Truex and Small at least have a year’s worth of experience together. Much like the Kyle Busch catch, last time Truex didn’t make the Championship 4 was 2016 (finished 11th in final standings), and then the next year he won the whole dang thing as already noted.

Christopher Bell, No. 20 Toyota

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 19: NASCAR driver Christopher Bell poses for a photo during the 2021 NASCAR Production Days at FOX Sports Studios on January 19, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Experience: Second full-time season in NASCAR Cup Series
2020 stats: 20th in final standings; 0 wins, 2 top fives and seven top 10s
2020 final Fantasy Live ranking: 19th
2021 championship odds: 50-1

RELATED: Christopher Bell to take over No. 20 Toyota

Outlook: Christopher Bell enters his sophomore season with a different team in Joe Gibbs Racing, and he just so happens to also gain a crew chief with an impressive resume. Adam Stevens won two championships at JGR with Kyle Busch and has navigated through the Cup Series field to 28 victories since 2015 – the same year Bell made his first-ever NASCAR start in the Camping World Truck Series. There will surely be a relationship-building period, but the combination of Bell’s youth and Stevens’ experience may be just what the No. 20 needs to return to Victory Lane and the NASCAR Playoffs, both of which would be firsts for Bell.

NASCAR.com 2021 team previews schedule

Jan. 18: 23XI Racing
Jan. 19: Trackhouse Racing Team
Jan. 20: Live Fast Motorsports
Jan. 21: Spire Motorsports
Jan. 22: JTG Daugherty Racing
Jan. 25: Front Row Motorsports
Jan. 26: Richard Petty Motorsports
Jan. 27: Roush Fenway Racing
Jan. 28: Wood Brothers Racing
Jan. 29: Richard Childress Racing
Jan. 30: Non-chartered and teams outside the top 30
Feb. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing
Feb. 2: Stewart-Haas Racing
Feb. 3: Joe Gibbs Racing
Feb. 4: Team Penske
Feb. 5: Hendrick Motorsports