|Kyle Busch, shown here from last month's testing, is 10/1 to win Shootout|
Most notably, driver Kyle Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers return for their third full season together, a combination that scored four victories, 14 top-five finishes, and 18 top-10s last season. But, beyond the M&M’s team, sweeping change has spread across the three-team JGR Sprint Cup operation.
Darian Grubb, who led Tony Stewart to the 2011 Sprint Cup championship, replaced Mike Ford atop the pit box of the No. 11 Camry driven by Denny Hamlin for JGR. And Jason Ratcliff, who led Busch to 36 wins in the Nationwide Series from 2008 to 2011, including the 2009 championship, was promoted to crew chief duties of JGR’s No. 20 entry driven by Joey Logano after former crew chief Greg Zipadelli departed during the offseason.
So, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season warms up with the Saturday night’s non-points-paying Budweiser Shootout, continues through next week’s Gatorade Duels, and begins in earnest with the 54thrunning of the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on Feb. 26, JGR will be hoping its offseason changes and accompanying new attitude will yield success at Daytona. And, the organization hopes, the momentum will continue long after Daytona Speedweeks is in the rearview mirror.
Prior to forming JGR’s latest crew chief triumvirate, Rogers, Grubb, and Ratcliff combined to win seven NASCAR championships in their respective roles with other teams in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series. Rogers won the 2005 Sprint Cup title as engineer for the JGR No. 20 Sprint Cup team and the 2008 Nationwide title as the crew chief of the No. 20 JGR Nationwide Series effort. Grubb was team engineer for the 2006 and 2007 Sprint Cup championship efforts of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team and, most recently, headed Stewart’s 2011 championship run as crew chief and collaborated on five victories over the final 10 Chase for the Championship races. Ratcliff was crew chief for Busch’s 2009 Nationwide Series championship, then led the No. 18 JGR Nationwide Series effort to the 2010 owners title.
The JGR crew chief trio has wasted little time formulating a culture of hard work and, most importantly, sharing of crucial information with the thought that three teams working together will always be better than one. It’s a philosophy that Rogers and Ratcliff began to employ when they first worked together as JGR Nationwide Series crew chiefs in 2006 and as the duo went on to lead JGR’s Nationwide program to three championships from 2008 to 2010.
Busch and Rogers hope the organizational changes will be especially helpful in enhancing JGR’s chances of winning the crown jewels of the Sprint Cup Season – the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and, of course, the Daytona 500. Busch will be seeking something he badly wants to add to his resume: his first win in NASCAR’s biggest race and, in the process, bring M&M’s and Toyota their first victory in the Great American Race.
So, as Busch and Company head to Daytona to kick off this year’s Speedweeks, he is as determined as ever to take the Daytona 500’s Harley J. Earl Trophy back to his home in Mooresville, N.C. If they’re able to accomplish their goal, credit not just the M&M’s team, but the fact all three JGR teams played a part. As the saying goes, it’s all for one and one for all for JGR in 2012.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Are you ready to get back to racing?
“You get an offseason and you’re not racing, so you kind of miss the bug a little bit. You spend some time relaxing and hanging out and just letting the new year come to you. For me, I’ve been ready. I think I’m pretty well versed in what we need to have happen this year and what we’d like to have happen and what we’d like to see with our M&M’s Camry.”
How did the two-car tandem draft feel with the new NASCAR rules during testing, and do you expect it to change much?
“With the new rule package we had at testing, it certainly changed it a little bit, not a whole lot. There are some different elements – the drivers really have to work hard trying to make sure to stay connected and still get air into the intake for the radiator. Other than that, it will be good just to get back in a racecar and get back to the feeling of everything.”
Car-to-car radio communication has been outlawed. What will it be like to not be able to talk with your teammates in the draft?
“It’s going to be a lot more difficult. At the test in January, they allowed us to at least talk to each other. Coming down to race time, we’re not supposed to. It’s definitely going to make it challenging. You’re going to have to go through talking to your spotter, your spotter talking to his spotter, his spotter talking to him, so there are a lot of different channels that you have to go through to get the communication going.”
Do you feel like you are capable of winning a Sprint Cup championship?
“I would certainly hope so. I feel like there are a lot of ways that people try to sidetrack you, but you have to forget about that stuff and know what’s important. What’s important first and foremost is family, with what’s at home, and then, of course, you look at your career and your business and what happens here at Joe Gibbs Racing – making the most of the effort for Toyota and M&M’s. With that, we try to look forward at making the most of this year and try to bring home a championship for JGR.”
What type of goals do you have for race wins in your career?
“I haven’t achieved any of my race win goals that I’ve wanted to achieve since I’ve come here. I’ve achieved everything else under the sun that I’ve never thought about achieving. The ones that I really want, like the (Daytona) 500, like the (Brickyard) 400, like the (Coca-Cola) 600 – a Charlotte Cup win at all – an All-Star race, the championship, all that stuff. I haven’t gotten any of that. I’m hoping one of these days I’ll have the opportunity to win those. I don’t think it’s at the point, yet, where you’re worried about it. But when you get to be probably about 35, then you’re like, ‘Man, I only have five more chances to get some of these because they only come once a year.’ Hopefully, by then, I can have some of that knocked out.”
DAVE ROGERS, Crew Chief of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How was team owner Joe Gibbs able to bring these three crew chiefs together?
“I think, if you look back at Joe Gibbs’ career, he’s been really good at that. He says he hires good people and lets them do their job. I think he’s made a home run right now with putting Darian (Grubb, crew chief, No. 11), Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief, No. 20) and I together – I hope it does come across as magic. The people part is so big and our personalities just mesh. When you wake up in the morning and you enjoy going to work and work with the people you work with, that makes such a big difference. I think that bleeds throughout the entire company. I think right now all 400 employees at Joe Gibbs Racing see how excited Jason, Darian and I are to work with each other. Whether that’s magic, or Joe and J.D. (Gibbs, JGR president) doing their job, I’m excited to be part of it.”
Will the three JGR Sprint Cup teams be more unified this year?
“I think the best way to answer that is to look back at 2007, 2008 and 2009 on the Nationwide side. When I moved over to the Nationwide shop in 2006, there wasn’t a whole lot of win banners hanging on the wall. I’m not telling you that I went over there and hung a lot – I think the teamwork and the team chemistry between Jason (Ratcliff) and I being able to lead the group and get the entire Nationwide shop to go in one direction as one unified team – I think that’s what hung all those banners. Jason and I know that. We know that we were only a small part of it. It was really the direction that we provided and the guys back in the shop just slugging it out and making it happen. Jason and I know that, if we provide that type of leadership, we have 400 of the best employees in the business sitting at Joe Gibbs Racing. We know they will respond and provide really good racecars and our drivers are all top-notch – all three of them. I think Darian (Grubb) really respects the relationship that Jason and I had and I think he wants to be part of that. From all signs, he’s trying to be part of that. I think you’re going to see one, unified team with three racecars every Sunday.”
- True Speed Communication for Joe Gibbs Racing