Team Preview: Joe Gibbs Racing
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on February 11, 2014 | 7:00 A.M. EST
After contending for the title last season, Joe Gibbs Racing returns with the same line-up of drivers. (Photo: Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth has been a full-time Sprint Cup Series driver since 2000 and won a championship in 2003. But many believe last year was his breakout season.
Kenseth rattled off seven victories and challenged Jimmie Johnson for the title down to the wire in his first campaign with Joe Gibbs Racing. So now it's time to ask "what do you do for an encore?"
"I think we just go out there and try to do the same thing we did last year - win races and compete," said Kenseth.
With talented teammates in Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, Kenseth is among the elite group of drivers heading into the 2014 season capable of winning the crown. In fact all three of the JGR pilots have been mentioned by pre-season experts as potential Sprint Cup Series champs.
"It's a nice problem to have," said team co-owner Joe Gibbs.
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Drivers: Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota), Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota), Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Toyota)
Crew Chiefs: Darian Grubb (Hamlin), Dave Rogers (Busch) and Chad Jason Ratcliff (Kenseth)
4 - Races missed last year by Hamlin due to back injury
9.1 - Career-best average starting spot for Busch in 2013
31 - Career Sprint Cup wins for Kenseth after his seven victories last year
JGR hopes the only thing new in 2014 is to have Hamlin behind the wheel for a full season and completely healed from the back injury that kept him sidelined for more than a month a year ago. Otherwise all three Sprint Cup teams returned basically unchanged from 2013 with management opting to keep the operation's chemistry and personnel intact.
What They’re Saying
Kenseth: “I think we have a championship caliber team for sure. Our pit stops have been incredible. There have been a lot of races this year where I feel like we’ve had the best car on track and I feel like we can contend for a championship.”
Hamlin: “Sometimes as a driver you wonder if you’ve lost it. We quickly saw that we didn’t lose it. It was more of a physical thing. Where I felt better we ran better.’’
Busch: "We proved last year how competitive we can be and there's no reason for me to believe we won't be everywhere near as strong again in 2014. But we obviously want to be even better so we can compete for a championship."
Keys To Season
Consistency will be a key to JGR's fortunes in 2014 and the team believes coming back with virtually the same three car operation intact will be beneficial. Kenseth and Busch both made the Chase last year and Hamlin ended the year on a high note with a Homestead win. The trio needs to replicate that same kind of success early in the campaign and then be in the best possible position to make a run for the title through the new Chase format.
There's no reason to believe all three drivers can't make the Chase under the new "win and you're in" playoffs format. The trio proved last year finding Victory Lane was possible and in the case of Kenseth probable especially on 1.5-mile tracks. But the big question will come during the ten race run to crown the champion. Kenseth can't stumble down the stretch, Busch has to up his competitiveness throughout the whole Chase schedule and Hamlin has to prove healthy all year for JGR to have a chance at the title.