Joe Gibbs Racing: A Challenging 2012?

Hamlin returning to the garage area @ Phoenix

(WOMR file photo)

In 2011 six different race teams placed drivers into the Chase.  However, no other race organization was as disappointed in their season as the Joe Gibbs Racing teams.  JGR has won three Sprint Cup championships since the 2000 race season, and has been extremely competitive in all those years.  However, no other team will be under such close scrutiny in the beginning of the  2012 season, as it looks to regain its championship luster of old, either.

In 2011 Joe Gibbs Racing won just a total of four (4)  races!  That is the lowest total of victories since 2007 for JGR.  The JGR slide from dominance was evident in the final results of the 2011 season showing that Denny Hamlin and Kyle Bush finishing ninth and twelfth respectively.  Meanwhile, Joey Logano, aka “Sliced Bread”, finished a very disappointing twenty-fourth in points!  It appears that the nickname, “sliced bread”, might need to be changed to something more appropriate for Logano!  After all, he is not taking the Sprint Cup by storm, as previously anticipated.
On track, the JGR squad lacked the performance is showed in 2010, when Hamlin nearly won the championship. On top of that, there were myriad issues that caused the team problems: Getting caught with “unapproved” oil pans at Michigan designed to give the cars a lower center of gravity in the front end; a stunning 16 engine failures in practice, qualifying and races; and, of course, the Kyle Busch Texas debacle, where he was parked for the weekend after deliberately wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. under caution in a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.

Since the 2011 season ended, there have been a multitude of changes that have happened at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Greg Zipadelli, who had been crew chief of the  #20 JGR Cup car since Tony Stewart was a rookie in 1999, left to rejoin Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing. Zipadelli will be replaced by Jason Ratcliff, who won two championships as a crew chief in JGR’s NASCAR Nationwide Series operation.

Mike Ford, the only crew chief Hamlin had since he was a rookie in 2006, was released after the season and replaced by Darian Grubb, who led Stewart to the 2011 Cup championship.

JGR is discontinuing building its own engines, and for 2012 will receive ones built by TRD, U.S.A., Toyota’s racing arm in America. TRD also provides engines for Michael Waltrip Racing and other Toyota teams.

As for the mercurial, sharped tongued, and at times a very loose cannon, ol Kylie Busch, 2012 will be a pivotal season. On Jan. 19, he will announce the driver and car lineup for his Kyle Busch Motorsports NASCAR Nationwide Series team. After the Texas incident, Busch is expected to greatly scale back his driving in the Nationwide and Truck Series, with Jason Leffler rumored to be driving the #18 KBM truck.

Even though there are many questions ahead this season for JGR as a whole, Hamlin is optimistic about returning to championship contention after a year in which he struggled badly with his self-confidence.

As for Busch, he’s yet to finish higher than eighth in points since joining JGR in 2008 and only one of his 23 career Sprint Cup victories has come in a Chase race, and that was back in his rookie season of 2005.

One additional challenge for JGR is institutional knowledge: With the demise of Red Bull, JGR and Michael Waltrip Racing are the only two multi-car Toyota teams realistically capable of winning at this point.  Therefore, there are less race teams with which to compare notes and ideas.  The net results is less data and information, which equates to less total racing knowledge each race weekend.

So as you can see, JGR has their work cut out for them, with new crew chiefs in place, a new race engine program, and some confidence issues within the driver corps.  It will be quite interesting to see if JGR can work its magic from within the organization to return the teams to its former winning swagger.


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