2015 was the year of Joe Gibbs Racing. The team was able to take the checkered flag 14 times over the span of the 36-race season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, evidently winning the championship with Kyle Busch. The Gibbs organization will look to keep up its dominance in 2016.

At the end of 2015, JGR announced that there would be crew chief changes beginning at the Daytona 500. Mike Wheeler was announced as the new crew chief for Denny Hamlin, replacing Dave Rogers. Rogers, formerly the crew chief for Denny Hamlin, is moving over to lead the No. 19 team with Carl Edwards, replacing Darian Grubb, who was left without a job before returning to Hendrick Motorsports.

Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens would remain intact after a championship-winning season. Matt Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff are coming off an impressive five-win season and will continue to work together for the fourth consecutive season.

Team owner Joe Gibbs believed that it was in everyone’s best interest to make changes even after having one of the best seasons in team history. The organization is coming off of a season where it tallied 45 top-five finishes and racked up 71 top 10s. Gibbs thinks that the current driver lineup is one of the best that the team has ever had. However, he was hesitant to say that his team is the best in the garage.

“I know in pro sports that one thing doesn’t guarantee anything for the next year,” Gibbs said on Tuesday at the NASCAR Media Tour. “I do feel good about our guys and our crew chiefs. Professional sports are hard. In 2013, we had one of our best years, but in 2014 we had our worst year. In professional sports, it can go south in a hurry.”

Busch will have the same exact team as he did last year, and will be one of the favorites for the championship heading into the new season. After recording five victories in just 25 races in 2015, Busch is looking to build on his success in 2016.

The reigning Cup champion will continue to bounce ideas off of his teammates in order for the team to be successful.

“I feel like we are one of the top teams, if not the top team in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition,” Busch said. “With the drivers and crew chiefs we have, I feel like everything could go down the path that it did last year with strong runs, race wins and competing for championships. We almost put two of our cars in the championship race if Carl [Edwards] had a few more points at Phoenix to be able to move on through. We have a lot of good things coming up.”

Like Busch, the No. 20 team will also have the same crew as they did in 2015. Kenseth won five times last season after going winless in 2014. The 43-year-old driver believes that his team will be just as good, if not better than they were in 2015.

He led 927 laps in 2015, the most out of all four drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing. He had a stretch of races in August and September where he won four out of eight races, but during the second round of the Chase, his championship hopes ended. Coming off of the season where he was suspended for two races for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville, Kenseth is looking to lean off his teammates and taking the next step as an organization.

“I feel like obviously I’ve got great teammates,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s what you don’t see that makes is so successful. They all put in the time, work and the effort and give good feedback. Those guys are good and they work really hard at it.”

Edwards on the other hand experienced an adjustment period for the first half of 2015 with his new team. In the first half of the season, the No. 19 team only found the top-10 three times. It was in the second half of the season that Grubb and he began to find consistency and made a run that had them fall just short of making it to the championship race at Homestead.

Statistically speaking, the move to JGR was very similar as 2014 when Edwards drove for Roush Fenway Racing. He finished the season with seven top-five finishes and rallied to have 15 top 10’s. There were many challenges that the team faced in the first season, but it is about the people for the Missouri native. The people are the reason that he jumped over to drive a Toyota and attempt to win his first career Cup championship.

“I’ve never worked with a better group of drivers,” Edwards said of his teammates. “This group right here is just spectacular. I would put these guys up against anyone in the garage. Every week, I’m motivated and pushed by these guys. I would say that we’re going to have a pretty good year if we can just do the things that we’ve been doing. It’s going to be great.”

If it wasn’t for a roof-flap that came loose at Talladega, there is a good chance that Hamlin would have been competing for his first Cup title. Unfortunately for the No. 11 team, bad luck has haunted them at the most inopportune time throughout Hamlin’s stint as the driver. Back in 2011, he had a 15-point lead heading into the season finale, but ultimately lost the championship to Jimmie Johnson.

2016 will look to be a different story for the Virginia native. Coming off of a season where he finished with 14 top fives, more than he had total in 2013 and 2014, he believes that this season could be the season that JGR elevates to the top race season in NASCAR.

“I think we can repeat what we did last year,” Hamlin said. “There is no reason why we can’t win half of the races and win the championship, especially with the group of drivers and crew chiefs that we have to work with. There is no reason why we can’t have success, especially knowing that we were successful with this low-downforce package last year.”

All four of the JGR drivers will be among the favorites for the championship. If the drivers can continue to work closely together there is no telling where JGR can go, and possibly establish the organization as the best team in NASCAR. 

 

A back flip and a sandwich is what Carl Edwards will have after the Coca-Cola 600. After pitting on a caution with 60 laps left in NASCAR’s longest race, the newest driver at Joe Gibbs Racing was able to save enough fuel to win his 24th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

Edwards held off former Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle after leaders Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex, Jr., amongst others, headed to pit road within the last 35 laps. In doing so, the Missouri native has scored his first triumph with Joe Gibbs Racing after recording one top 10 in his first 11 races in the No. 19 Toyota. The victory marks Gibbs’ 117th win in the Cup Series, and gives Edwards a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Truex, who led a race-high 131 laps, which is the fifth largest amount of laps led in his career, finished fifth at Charlotte. The Furniture Row Racing team was in position to contend with Hamlin for the win, but after the final pit stop, he was a lap behind Edwards. However, he continues to sit second in points with 11 top 10s in 12 races.

Hamlin had to be sent to the infield medical center following the race after experiencing a migraine headache in the late stages of the race. After short pitting due to a loose wheel, he finished eighth on an evening where he led 53 laps.

Rounding out the top five were Dale Earnhardt, Jr., pole sitter Matt Kenseth and Truex.

Kyle Busch made his return to the Cup Series during the All-Star Race last weekend, but the Coca-Cola 600 was his first time back in a points-paying event. Busch ran inside of the top 15 early on, but struggled with a loose condition. As the race continued, he moved into the top 10, and evidently cracked the top five – running as high as second during the 600-mile race. He finished 11th, which is considered a victory as he told reporters following the race that he experienced no pain throughout the race.

Jimmie Johnson spun twice during the race. Getting lucky on his first spin – similar to Kansas – he was headed back to the front of the pack. However, on Lap 273, the No. 48 car got loose coming off Turn 4, and hit the SAFER Barrier entering pit road. Johnson finished 40th, 30 laps down.

“We came in with an aggressive mindset to bring an aggressive set-up in the car, drive aggressively and take chances,” Johnson said after the second incident. “We just don’t have anything to lose. Unfortunately, we didn’t get long enough into the race for the aggressive set-up to come into play. Another 30/40 laps we would have had the car right where we wanted it.  I just didn’t make it there.”

Running in his final Coca-Cola 600, Jeff Gordon flew in from Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon. Gordon drove the pace car in the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, and finished 15th at Charlotte.

 

“Nobody has your back like I do.” These were the first words to come out of Denny Hamlin’s mouth after Danica Patrick approached him on pit road following the second Budweiser Duel 150 race on Thursday evening.

Wednesday featured a practice accident between Patrick and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin. While racing on the backstretch, Hamlin got into her, which sent her to a backup car for the Duel.

But on Thursday night, with pressure to make the Daytona 500, Patrick let her emotions out. On Lap 56, Patrick was inside of the top 10 when she spun out in the center of Turn 3. Hamlin was trailing her at the time – just a few inches behind – and claims he did not touch her. However, she believes otherwise.

“Yesterday when he went to pull down low, it just pulled my bumper around, but it tracked around, I was loose,” Patrick explained in a post-race press conference. “Then it spun and wrecked, we go on to the next car. Something similar happens tonight where I look in my rearview mirror and he's tight up behind me. I can see he's staggered to my left rear, the car gets really light and spins around.”

During the altercation on pit road, Patrick raised her voice and grabbed Hamlin by the collar. Attempting to explain himself, he put his hands on her shoulders in an attempt to calm her down. She told Hamlin that the incident “happened twice, the same person and the same way.”

"No one else is getting close to you,” Hamlin responded. “But, we have to get close to you to get you going forward. To get you going forward, I have to get close to you. I know it got you loose, but I didn't hit you."

The two are neighbors in the motor coach lot, and Patrick said she’s one of his best friends. However, entering a contract year with Stewart-Haas Racing and GoDaddy, missing the Daytona 500 would be considered the apocalypse of her NASCAR career. GoDaddy had to pull her Super Bowl commercial due to a controversy that was sparked from the 30-second marketing campaign, and she was defensive during the Media Tour when asked about her 28th-place finish in points last year.

Following the wreck, her car had minor damage, and she was able to continue for the green-white-checkered finish. Though she nearly lost the pack, teammate Kurt Busch gave her a push and propelled her to 10th place, which was six spots to the good of making it into the “Great American Race.”

“Holy crap, it felt dire,” she said. “This whole scenario is crazy that the series has put us in.  Actually I said yesterday, it's horrible that it's left up to other people and what they can do to you to whether or not you get in the race or not.

“At the end when they told me I need four spots or you need to pass these two cars or you're 18th right now, I was like, Okay, do I have to be desperate basically?  Do I have to pass these cars?  Nobody answered me.  I just said, Screw it, I'm going to be desperate. . . . Luckily it shouldn't go unsaid, Kurt was there for me.  Without Kurt, I wouldn't have finished where I did.”

When everything settled down, Hamlin took his belief to Twitter and said: "On the streets of real life cops always give the ticket to the car behind in a accident. We will use that logic on this one.Folks I watched it back and was in the drivers seat so I know.. I did NOT hit her. BUT I was close, too close obviously."

“To be able to get out there and race and be out there with good cars - those Gibbs cars are awfully strong,” Johnson said following his victory. “So to size myself up against them and see what kind of runs they can create and try to put on me. At the start of the race, I was behind those two trying to figure out to get by them. All in all, it was a very productive night.”

Johnson led a race-high 31 laps as he blocked Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth for the final handful of laps. After expressing his No. 48 car’s strengths in the second half of the race, the six-time champion fought off the Toyota-powered cars to earn the victory.

Ryan Blaney finished inside of the top five in the Wood Brothers Ford. Blaney will race in his first Daytona 500 in what will be the beginning of an 18-race stint with the No. 21 team.

Danica Patrick, who was on the verge of missing the Daytona 500 after spinning on Lap 56, finished 10th to race her way in. Following the race, Patrick and Denny Hamlin exchanged words on pit road in a heated discussion. Patrick believed that Hamlin got into the rear end of her No. 10 car, but he continuously denied it.

Front Row Motorsports driver David Ragan entered the second Budweiser Duel 150 with no owner points and a qualifying time outside of the top 30. With the No. 34 car’s owner points going to new teammate Cole Whitt, Ragan had to race his way into the Daytona 500 by finishing inside of the top 16. On Lap 19, Ragan and Justin Allgaier got together on the frontstretch. Ragan’s car received rear end damage, and he fell one lap down following a lengthy pit stop under caution. However, after getting back on the lead lap, he was able to surge into the top 16 – finishing 14th.

Reed Sorenson, who nearly didn’t have the opportunity to race on Thursday evening due to not having a backup car at the track, executed his way into the top 10 late in the race, along with Mike Wallace as the two made it into the Daytona 500.

Brian Scott missed the Daytona 500 in the No. 62 Chevrolet. Bobby Labonte finished 20th, but was able to use the champion’s provisional to make his way into Sunday’s event. Jeb Burton and Alex Bowman didn’t qualify for the race after being involved in a wreck on Lap 36 with Sam Hornish, Jr. and Austin Dillon. Hornish made the race based on owner points, and Dillon was able to continue and finished 15th. Josh Wise wasn’t able to get going from the start of the race in his Phil Parsons Racing No. 98 Ford. He was able to make it back on track for a handful of laps, but finished 24th.

 

Starting lineup via NASCAR.com.

 

RowInsideOutsideExplained
1 Jeff Gordon Jimmie Johnson Top two qualifiers (Final round of Coors Light Pole Qualifying)
2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kyle Busch Top 15 from Duel races (Inside: First race; Outside: Second race)
3 Joey Logano Carl Edwards Top 15 from Duel races
4 Tony Stewart Greg Biffle Top 15 from Duel races
5 Clint Bowyer Martin Truex Jr. Top 15 from Duel races
6 Kevin Harvick Ryan Blaney Top 15 from Duel races
7 Kasey Kahne Reed Sorenson Top 15 from Duel races
8 Jamie McMurray Mike Wallace Top 15 from Duel races
9 Landon Cassill Justin Allgaier Top 15 from Duel races
10 Cole Whitt Danica Patrick Top 15 from Duel races
11 Paul Menard Ryan Newman Top 15 from Duel races
12 Michael McDowell Kurt Busch Top 15 from Duel races
13 JJ Yeley David Gilliland Top 15 from Duel races
14 Michael Annett David Ragan Top 15 from Duel races
15 Kyle Larson Austin Dillon Top 15 from Duel races
16 Ty Dillon Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Top 15 from Duel races
17 Aric Almirola Michael Waltrip Four fastest qualifiers from any round
18 Matt Kenseth Johnny Sauter Four fastest qualifiers from any round
19 Denny Hamlin Brad Keselowski 2014 owner points
20 Trevor Bayne AJ Allmendinger 2014 owner points
21 Sam Hornish Jr. Casey Mears 2014 owner points
22 Bobby Labonte xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Past champion

 

Hugs all around. That’s just how warm-hearted he is. Wife and son. Crew members and owners. Everyone deserves a hug for what this man accomplished.

“The Closer” took it all home at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday. Kevin Harvick, who made the daring swap to Stewart-Haas Racing over the off-season, battled a hard-charging Ryan Newman late in the Ford EcoBoost 400. After a restart with three laps to go, the driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet headed off into the sunset to win the race, and more importantly – his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

With 25 laps to go, Harvick got around Hamlin. Logano came into pit road on the following caution, along with Newman and Harvick, but the jack fell off on the left side, which put the No. 22 car at the rear of the field. Logano came back to finish 16th, yet it wasn’t enough with his three opponents racing inside of the top-10 throughout the day.

“I knew I needed to get a bunch of them," Harvick said following the race. "I was fortunate to start on the outside. The seas kind of parted there as I came off of Turn 2 and was about to get four or five of them; I don’t really know but it was time to go for broke at that particular point. When the next caution came out, we were fortunate enough again to line up on the outside. That was pretty much what we needed - to get the run on the outside down the backstretch."

Harvick had five wins on the year, which is tied for the most in his career (2006). With 14 top-fives and 20 top-10s, he showed he had the speed to win throughout the year. Although adversity struck the No. 4 team on multiple occasions with pit crew problems and mechanical issues, they rebounded with multiple victories late in the year; including back-to-back wins to end the season. Winning the championship, Harvick has given Stewart-Haas Racing their second triumph, and he becomes the 30th different driver in the sport’s 66-year history to win the title.

"If it wasn’t for Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, I would have been in bad trouble this week," said Harvick. "Those guys really helped me get through the week. Today was fine. I was a little anxious both days of practice, overdriving the car and not doing things I needed to do. After every practice, Jimmie was in there, and in our team debriefs Tony was constantly telling me just to go race and that it’s just another race."

“It was a heck of a race up there,” said Logano following the disappointing result. “I screwed up and hit the wall early and we were able to recover then had the mistake on pit road which didn’t give us enough time to recover from that. It is unfortunate. Execution was our strong point all year and we just didn’t do it tonight. For that reason we finished fourth after I think we scored the most points this whole Chase.”

Denny Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb opted to stay out of pit road along with Jeff Gordon with approximately 20 laps remaining in the race. The No. 11 car had run up front throughout the 400-mile race, and led 50 laps during Sunday’s spectacle. However, without fresh tires and multiple late-race restarts, his Toyota fell back on the restart – finishing seventh at Homestead.

But for Newman, he was extremely close to winning the title. The two-tire call late in the race by crew chief Luke Lambert gave him a chance at winning it all. Before that risk, the No. 31 Chevrolet was racing outside of the top-five, which was sub-par compared to Harvick, Hamlin and Logano, who were each fighting for the lead. Although they didn’t record a victory in 2014, the team was well inside the top-10 in points throughout the regular season.

Gordon led the most laps on Sunday evening as he paced the field 161 times. But after starting on the pole, he finished 10th to end his season. Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top-five in the 400-mile event. Keselowski fell a lap down during a green-flag pit cycle, but took the wave around to get back on the lead lap, and was able to fight for the win for the last 50 laps.

Jimmie Johnson, who finished ninth at Homestead, finished 11th in the championship standings. Prior to this season, his worst season result was sixth in 2011. Keselowski finished fifth in points with Gordon, Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch rounding out the top-10.

Kyle Larson locked up the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Throughout his first full-time season, the 22-year-old had an average finish of 14.2 with eight top-fives and 17 top-10s. Larson had some inconsistent moments throughout the year, but he had three runner-up finishes, and was able to lead 53 laps. Austin Dillon finished second to Larson in the rookie standings, but not earning a DNF over the course of the season wasn’t enough for the Richard Childress Racing driver.