In 2015, Joe Gibbs Racing is adding a fourth driver–fan-favorite Carl Edwards–to their already impressive stable, but after disappointing 2014 campaigns for the other three drivers (Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin), president J.D. Gibbs decide that there were more internal changes that needed to be made. Specifically, the organization has decided to switch around the crew chiefs a bit.
Jason Ratcliff will stay with the #20 team and Matt Kenseth, but Darian Grubb will move from the #11 car driven by Denny Hamlin to the newly-formed #19 team with Carl Edwards. Dave Rogers, who was the crew chief for #18 Kyle Busch in 2014, will be on top of the pit box for Hamlin, while Adam Stevens will move up from the XFINITY Series and start his crew chief career in NASCAR’s premier circuit.
While this news shouldn’t be overly surprising for many racing fans, it will be interesting to see how these changes will affect the teams going forward. The entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization had just two victories total throughout the entire 2014 season, with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch each notching one apiece. Matt Kenseth went winless after grabbing seven victories over the 2013 Sprint Cup year.
The Shakeup Effect
Typically, racing organizations only make these kind of moves when they are either not satisfied with the results their teams are achieving or if they think that the chemistry between drivers and crew chiefs could be better–or even a combination of both, as those two typically go hand-in-hand. It will be particularly interesting to see how a new crew chief will affect Denny Hamlin specifically, as I have repeatedly said that Darian Grubb was the only thing holding the #11 driver back from being a Sprint Cup champion.
Darian Grubb is a risk-taker, and that’s how he helped Tony Stewart win the championship back in 2011. However, there was a reason that Grubb was let go after that season, even though he literally could not have done any better, as winning the championship is every team’s primary goal when the season starts. Those gambles rarely paid off for the #11 team in 2014, specifically all of those two-tire calls when everyone else went with four. It became an almost weekly occurrence in 2014 that I said, “what the hell is Darian Grubb doing?”
And don’t even bring up the 2012 Fontana race when Denny Hamlin was sitting in 2nd and the caution came out for rain. A blind person could have read the radar and said that the race would be called, but lo and behold Darian Grubb tells Denny to pit and the #11 team ends up finishing 11th.
2015 Champion…Denny Hamlin?
I’m not ready to crown Denny Hamlin as the 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion, but I’m expecting a lot of good things out of this new driver-crew chief relationship. It may take a full season for Denny and Dave Rogers to really gel, but I think it will eventually provide great results for this #11 team. We all know that Hamlin has the driving talent to succeed on pretty much any track type, and now he has a crew chief that (hopefully) won’t put him in unfortunate situations due to high-risk pit calls.
Currently, Bovada has Hamlin listed at 14/1 to win the 2015 championship. Personally, I wouldn’t mind taking a chance with those odds because he could definitely be raising that trophy if he once again gets to the Homestead round of this year’s Chase.