2012 Team Preview: Joe Gibbs Racing
Owner: Joe Gibbs (93 career wins, three career championships)
Crew chiefs: Dave Rogers (Busch), Darian Grubb (Hamlin), Jason Ratcliff (Logano)
Key offseason changes: Grubb, a championship-winning crew chief, was brought in to replace Mike Ford on Hamlin’s team. Longtime crew chief Greg Zipadelli left, and Ratcliff, a successful Nationwide Series crew chief, was elevated to take the same role with Logano.
Overview: Joe Gibbs Racing has undergone an unusual amount of change in the offseason, but everyone within the organization seems comfortable and confident with the moves.
Hamlin is rested and relaxed after an offseason getaway to Scottsdale, Ariz. He already seems more positive about his season after winning the Darian Grubb sweepstakes. Having a championship crew chief pick you and your team certainly can boost morale around the place.
Busch should be his usual force of nature this season, winning often and early. With a slightly curtailed overall driving schedule, he will have more time and energy to focus on his Cup effort, especially in those critical Chase for the Sprint Cup races. And Logano brings renewed enthusiasm after gaining a new crew chief, Ratcliff, in an effort to revitalize his team after Zipadelli parted ways with the group.
This trio of drivers should be difficult to match this season. Busch is focused on learning how to translate his regular-season success into a solid run in the Chase in an effort to finally snare that elusive championship. Without as many distractions in that segment of the season — such as three-race weekends on a regular basis — he and Rogers could find the magic formula to stay on pace.
Hamlin, coming off a lackluster 2011 season, looks to get back into top form once more. He challenged for the championship to the wire in 2010. Any lingering effects of the disappointment being edged out of that title are deep in the past. Hamlin seems as laid back and confident entering the year as he has over the course of his career. With Grubb at the helm, this team should make immediate strides forward.
Logano, meanwhile, faces perhaps the most pressure of the group. Dubbed “Sliced Bread” from the moment he made his NASCAR debut, which came as soon as he was eligible by age, he needs to step up and perform at a level more equal to that of his teammates. How he handles this season could have a major impact on his Cup career.
Prediction: Joe Gibbs Racing has worked diligently to upgrade its performance in 2012.
Although the team certainly enjoyed success in 2011 — Busch and Hamlin each made the Chase — it did not contend for wins as regularly as it has in the past. Now, Busch and Hamlin are eager to once more prove they can be contenders.
A new alignment for the engine program should smooth out issues that hampered the effort last season, causing the group less headaches at the 1.5-mile tracks. Logano is the great unknown of the season as he tries to up his game and navigate the final season of his contract, with a new crew chief. But look for Busch and Hamlin to strike early, easily make the Chase and once more be a factor in the title race this year.