Owners - Joe and J.D. Gibbs
Manufacturer - Toyota
Cars and Drivers
No. 20 Home Depot
Driver Tony Stewart led the charge for Joe Gibbs Racing last season, finishing sixth in the Nextel Cup standings and getting in the Chase for the Cup after failing to get into the playoffs the previous year. This season could be a challenge for the two-time Cup champion, who has to transition from his longtime relationship with General Motors to Toyota.
Greg Zipadelli will return as Stewart's crew chief, and if anyone can ease the transition to Toyota, it's him, just because of his experience and ability to work with Stewart. The pair currently has the longest continuous driver-crew chief connection in the Sprint Cup series now that Robbie Reiser isn't with Matt Kenseth.
No. 11 FedEx
Driver Denny Hamlin had a successful sophomore Cup season, grabbing the 12th-place finish in the final Cup points standings. With the addition of Kyle Busch, Hamlin is the driver that seems to get lost in the conversation when talking about JGR drivers. However, Hamlin is no slouch. He has competed for the Cup in his first two full seasons and has brought consistency to the No. 11 car.
Mike Ford will return for his third season as Hamlin's crew chief. Ford won the 2007 WypAll Wipers Crew Chief of the Year Award after earning Crew Chief of the Race accolades at five races last season. Ford is a huge reason that Hamlin has found success in his two seasons with JGR.
No. 18 M&M's
The most vocal driver for JGR, Busch, happens to be the newest to the team. He comes over from Hendrick Motorsports, where he finished fifth in the Cup standings, one spot ahead of new JGR teammate Stewart. He replaces driver J.J. Yeley, who is now driving for Hall of Fame Racing, in the No. 18 car. Busch has already claimed victory for Toyota, guaranteeing that they will win in 2008. While the 22-year-old brings over an impressive resume, he adds another volatile personality to a group that already has had issues.
The change at driver for the No. 18 car won't affect who is managing in the pits. Steve Addington will be the crew chief for the No. 18 car, the same car he has managed for the last three years. Last season with Yeley, the No. 18 car managed one top-10 finish, qualified for 30 races and ended the season with an average finish of 22.4. Expectations will be high for Addington, who will not be able to use Yeley's inexperience as an excuse for not winning.
Equipment and Resources
The big change for JGR is its switch from Chevrolet to Toyota for the 2008 season. They gave up their 16-year relationship with American cars for the Japanese manufacturer. Toyota didn't fare well in its first season on the Cup Circuit, failing to win a race, with six of the seven Toyota teams failing to qualify for 10 or more races.
During the first two weeks of testing sessions for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series Preseason Thunder at Daytona International Speedway, Toyota has been making headlines. The testing showed that 11 Camrys are fast and ready to challenge for wins in 2008. In single-car runs, Toyota drivers posted five of the top six speeds and 10 of the top 15. Speed is nothing new to Toyota, though.
Joe Gibbs Racing steps out of the shadow of Hendrick Motorsports in the Chevy camp; JGR has the opportunity to become a leader with Toyota. When the team made the official switch to Toyota, team president J.D. Gibbs visited with all the existing teams to offer his support.
Mark Conquist, Gibbs' respected engine builder, has been given the responsibility by Toyota to make sure that all their cars have the horsepower needed to compete at Daytona. Ronnie Crooks, one of the sport's top chassis specialists and a member of the No. 20 pit crew, has been in charge of helping the three other Toyota operations, something that is rather unusual.
Toyota is banking on JGR and the resources they bring to the table to elevate its teams and compete directly with Chevy and Hendrick Motorsports. The goal of Toyota doesn't seem to be making Toyota better than 25th; it's about Toyota Racing Development raising JGR so that their drivers can go head-to-head with Hendrick's.
About Richard Garcia
Garcia served as a managing editor for KFFL. Prior to his time with KFFL, Richard worked in managerial roles with both Frito-Lay Inc. and UPS. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in public relations from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona and fulfilled his internship requirements with the Los Angeles Kings Hockey organization in 2001.
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