JGR Adds Busch to Stable

by C.J. Radune on February 5, 2008 @ 11:06:53 PDT

 


<a href="/player/18534/nsc">Kyle Busch</a> will be dealing with a number of large changes in the 2008 Sprint Cup season

Kyle Busch will be dealing with a number of changes in the 2008 Sprint Cup season. He will be driving for a new team, which includes new sponsors, a new crew chief and a new manufacturer in Toyota. However, Busch has landed on his feet with Joe Gibbs Racing since being released by Hendrick Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Through the first three testing sessions at Daytona International Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and California Speedway, Busch and Toyota have consistently posted some of the fastest times during the trials.

Although early indications point to Busch being a factor in the Chase for the Cup, there are some questions as to how he will get along with his new teammates, especially Tony Stewart. Stewart's personality is one of the most volatile in the sport, and he doesn't discriminate when it comes to getting into it with fellow drivers. He had issues with teammate Denny Hamlin last season, after refusing to take responsibility and blaming Hamlin for an incident that resulted in the two getting tangled up.

Career Comparison: Busch vs. Hamlin

Busch began driving for Hendrick at age 18 in the NASCAR Busch Series (now the Nationwide Series). It was a recipe for instant success as he finished second in his first race. In 2004, Busch made the full-time jump to the Nationwide Series and built upon his accolades by winning Rookie of the Year honors and finishing second in the series points. The same year saw Busch's first starts in the Nextel Cup Series. In 2005, Busch made the Cup switch full time, winning two races and finishing 20th overall. In his final two years with Hendrick, Busch made the Chase for the Championship in both seasons, tallying two wins.

Over at JGR, Hamlin made his Sprint Cup debut in 2005 and competed full-time in the series beginning in 2006. Hamlin won the Budweiser Shootout in 2006 in his first restrictor-plate race; he finished the season with two wins and a spot in the Chase. He followed up that impressive debut by qualifying for the Chase for the Championship again in 2007 behind one win.

Table: Busch and Hamlin Comparison - 2006

Driver
Wins
Top 5
Top 10
Avg St
Avg Fn
Busch
1
10
18
14.9
15.5
Hamlin
2
8
20
13.4
12.5

Table: Busch and Hamlin Comparison - 2007

Driver
Wins
Top 5
Top 10
Avg St
Avg Fn
Busch
1
11
20
15
14.1
Hamlin
1
12
18
12.4
14.0

Clearly, both Busch and Hamlin have been successful with their respective teams. Busch is not taking a step backward by moving to Gibbs when looking at the success Hamlin has experienced. Going into 2008, the question for both drivers was JGR's ability to build fast and reliable Toyota engines, which they seem to have been able to accomplish already. Additionally, Busch will have to leverage his teammates to achieve more than he did with Hendrick.

Changes for 2008

The biggest change for JGR is the transition from Chevrolet to Toyota. Taking a step backward would be very easy for JGR with the quick transition to a new manufacturer. Toyota, however, has a lot invested in making sure their highest-profile team gets the most out of its equipment. The full support of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) has been put behind the JGR team from the very beginning of the transition, with TRD building all of the initial engines to be used in testing. Additionally, JGR engineers have been dispatched to other Toyota teams as well as TRD headquarters. JGR engine builder Mark Cronquist has taken the lead with Toyota's engine development.

All Toyota teams will benefit from JGR's switch to Toyota. Shock specialist Ronny Crooks has been supplied by JGR to facilitate chassis aerodynamics information flow amongst the Toyota teams. This is one example where the teams are leveraging each other to succeed. Why is this important? Introduction of the Car of Tomorrow has removed teams' ability to modify chassis bodies, meaning that shocks become an even more important aerodynamic enhancement with their ability to raise and lower corners of the car. By offering Crooks, Gibbs has made sure they know how all the other Toyota teams are addressing aerodynamic issues. Similar partnerships in other areas of development should shorten the development time for the Toyota teams to get to the front of the field rather than trying to catch up. JGR's chances of taking a step backward by changing manufacturers have been minimized by the partnerships and the support of TRD.

Fantasy Outlook

If Busch can play nice with his new teammates, he could open the door to mutually beneficial partnerships. All three drivers in JGR's arsenal are hardnosed and aggressive. Stewart and Busch in particular are not known as masters of their emotions. Past scuffles between the two could taint their ability to work together. In past teammate Jeff Gordon, Busch had a senior driver who demonstrated composure and was not averse to supplying sage-like advice. With Stewart, Busch is getting a shifty veteran who is ruthless on the track.

A positive for Busch in the move from Hendrick is that he will now be part of the main team. Busch's No. 5 Hendrick car was a de facto subset of the Hendrick organization, and one may argue that the full support of the team was not always present. With JGR, the three cars have a history of receiving equal treatment and achieving similar success.

Additionally, if the Gibbs team can be successful in bringing Toyota to new heights, Busch's transition would be made easier. However, there appears to be more hurdles than just Toyota. Busch doesn't have an instant mentor at Gibbs, nor does he have the organization that took care of his development from Day 1. While Busch certainly won't be a castaway at Gibbs, he isn't ingrained like Stewart and Hamlin.

Busch might need some time to get adjusted when the season begins in Daytona, but his performances during the testing sessions have shown that it might not be the case. Consider Busch as a No. 1 fantasy driver in his first year with JGR.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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