Team Preview: Joe Gibbs Racing

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Joe Gibbs Racing enters 2009 without its familiar, veteran driver Tony Stewart, but the team has three promising and successful young drivers aiming to keep the team in victory lane and the Chase.

Kyle Busch enters his fifth year of full-time Sprint Cup Series competition and will make his 151st career start in this year's Daytona 500 in his second year with JGR. He's joined by returning driver Denny Hamlin and rookie-of-the-year candidate Joey Logano.

The changes this year are almost as drastic as the changes last year at JGR, where Busch came to the team replacing J.J. Yeley, they switched to Toyotas and contended with running the first full year with the COT. If last year's success of 10 victories and all three of its drivers in the Chase are any indication of JGR's ability to adapt to change, 2009 should be a good year.

Busch is confident the team can make it work in 2009 despite the changes.

"From the race team aspect, it's going to change at JGR with Joey coming on board and Tony leaving. It's sad to see Tony go, but at the same time, it’s exciting to have Joey on board," Busch said. "You never know what you can learn. There are a lot of things I learned from Tony, good and bad, and there are a lot of things that I'll learn from Joey, good and bad. Same with Denny and I. Just having the three young guys on the team and Denny being the senior driver, it's going to be different. I think Joey will get up to speed quickly."

Busch credits owners Joe and J.D. Gibbs as driving forces behind making the organization, and the drivers, run so well.

"I think the guy that is going to get us all headed in the right direction is J.D. (Gibbs). He's going to pull us all together and tell us that we need to work on something specific. Joe (Gibbs) is the same way. He takes a lot from his football background and gets everyone together as a whole," Busch said. "That's just the way they are. That's how they run their organization. As far as the drivers go, Denny could do it or I could do it and even Joey could. When times are tough and one of us is struggling, or all of us are struggling, there's a core group of guys and some depth there that those guys will figure it out and help guide us in the right direction."

Helping the Gibbs's make it all work are returning crew chiefs Mike Ford, Steve Addington and Greg Zipadelli.

Zipadelli stayed with the No. 20 team after Stewart's departure, and he and Logano made their debut in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona. Logano recorded last place in the event after having to start from the back since he missed the pre-race driver's meeting. He was caught up in an unavoidable early race accident.

The two are trying their best to get up to speed quickly.

"It will still probably take a couple of races, but I think we're getting to that point now where we are starting to gel a little bit, getting to know each other," Logano said. "There are a lot of different things that we're going to learn along the way, but I think that helped our communication. The way I describe a race car to the way he fixes it - it takes time to get that chemistry going - but I feel good about it."

Despite the adjustment, Logano is looking forward to running with the established team and hopes to grab ROY honors.

"I'd rather be in this situation with the pressure than being with a brand new team. I'd rather be in this situation with a top-notch team, a top-notch car," Logano said.

"Rookie-of-the-Year would be big for us. We will go for that and then go along - the same way I did last year in the Nationwide Series - just kind of go with the flow, see where we are at and do the best we can every weekend," he said.

With Addington heading the No. 18 team last year, Busch took his Toyota to victory lane eight times. But Busch's success came in the first 26 races and he and the team weren't able to translate it to the Chase. Hamlin also struggled in the Chase and JGR saw its drivers finish eighth through 10th in the final standings.

They'll have to brush off those season-ending demons and try to begin their seasons the same way they did last year.

"I think getting to start fresh with a new season, and starting with the Daytona 500, I think we'll run well and I hope we can do exactly what we did in the first 26 races last year but also carry that momentum into the final 10 races," Busch said. "We worked on a lot of things in the off-season that we learned from last fall.

"I'm always going to be a competitive person no matter what, even aside from what happened at the end of last year. I'm going to go out there and try to win as many races as possible and compete for the championship just like any other year. Hopefully, we can get some luck to fall our way."

For his part, Hamlin is ready to lead the JGR team into the new season by not leaving anything to chance but rather by working as hard as he can to bring the team positive results.

"I can assure you that I'm more focused than I've ever been on the racing aspect of it. A lot of people say that, but I work my guts out in the gym to try and be better. Every time I think I'm working hard, I always picture someone else who's working a little bit harder than I am so I push myself a little bit more," Hamlin said. "Even when I go to a test session, if we need to work on something, I don't need to be up in the lounge when they're making changes - taking a nap. I need to be underneath that car wondering what I can do, what better feedback I can give them, and give them all the feedback I can.

"I'm really trying everything I can to be better – to be the best that I can be – because I'm tired of hearing that I have potential. I want to show that I have results instead."

He's banking on having the best possible equipment from the team in order to bring home those results.

"We look forward to hopefully the new horsepower that we have, the bodies that we've come up with, everything the teams have worked for in the race shop," Hamlin said. "We've heard it from our crew chiefs that 'hey, we've got the best piece out there' so now it's time to prove it."

Denny Hamlin
Car No: 11
Manufacturer: Toyota
Sponsors: FedEx
Crew Chief: Mike Ford

2008 Stats
Races
Wins
Top 5s
Top 10s
Avg. Start
Avg. Fin.
36
1
12
18
15.3
15.4


Kyle Busch
Car No: 18
Manufacturer: Toyota
Sponsors: M&M's
Crew Chief: Steve Addington

2008 Stats
Races
Wins
Top 5s
Top 10s
Avg. Start
Avg. Fin.
36
8
17
21
11.9
12.5


Joey Logano
Car No: 20
Manufacturer: Toyota
Sponsors: Home Depot
Crew Chief: Greg Zipadelli

2008 Stats
Races
Wins
Top 5s
Top 10s
Avg. Start
Avg. Fin.
3
0
0
0
37.0
37.0


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