One in a series of 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team previews ahead of the season-opening Daytona 500:
JOE GIBBS RACING
Principal owner: Joe Gibbs
Engine source: Toyota Racing Development
2013's top finisher: Kenseth, second
2013 grade: A-minus
2014 preseason grade: A-minus
2014 outlook: Matt Kenseth's move from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing not only reinvigorated Kenseth and propelled him to arguably the best season of his NASCAR career, it also boosted the Joe Gibbs Racing organization. By swapping the departed Joey Logano for Kenseth, JGR got a steady, veteran contender who lifted the performance of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Hamlin's season was compromised by the broken back he suffered at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., while racing for the win with ex-teammate Logano. Hamlin missed only a handful of races, but he was not 100 percent healthy until near the end of the year, when he took victory in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch won four regular-season races and was more consistent in the Chase, but wasn't able to match championship protagonists Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson in the 10 Chase races. Busch continues to race Trucks and Nationwide cars as often as possible, and he set a record with 12 Nationwide race wins. Meanwhile Kenseth provided many of the Cup Series' 2013 season highlights with a career-high seven race wins, and it will be interesting to see if he can repeat that form in 2014. JGR had little turnover in the offseason, with longtime executives Dave Alpern and Todd Meredith given promotions to Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Operations Officer, respectively.
Quotable: "We're excited for our race team this coming year, mainly because we don't have a lot of changes and we're getting Denny back. That's going to be a big boost for us. We're thrilled to have our sponsors in place and they're all excited about the changes to the format of qualifying and the Chase. I think that's something that's going to make our year special. Our crew chiefs have great chemistry; Jason and Darien and Dave are willing to work through things and sacrifice for each other. It's great to see that teamwork. We're in good shape from a Cup standpoint and we can't wait to get the year started. We're also excited about our Nationwide program, with Elliott Sadler coming back, and with Sam Hornish coming over to the team, we think that's going to give us a great pair. We really think we have someone special with Darrell Wallace in our truck program -- our young guys are a big part of the future of Joe Gibbs Racing." -- Joe Gibbs
Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&Ms/Interstate Batteries Toyota): "It's been an interesting nine years in the Cup Series, and it doesn't feel like 10 years at all. It certainly seems like a whole different world, not only for me but just a whole different world in general. I don't think we had Facebook or Twitter back 10 years ago and you could actually go to a bar and not have somebody Tweet about it. There are certainly a lot of things that I have yet to accomplish that I'm disappointed that I have not accomplished yet -- some big wins at the marquee events as well as being able to become a Sprint Cup Series champion. The Nationwide Series championship is great, but ultimately what all of us drivers look toward is a Sprint Cup championship. It would certainly be nice to be the winner at Daytona and to be considered into the Chase right off the bat after the first race, but it's a long season -- you've got 26 races to get it done and to get yourself locked in [to the Chase]. You've got more positions now than ever to get locked in. I don't foresee it as being something that you take for granted, but I don't know that it should be that hard to make the Chase for a team of our caliber."
2014 goal: Win the Sprint Cup that has eluded him.
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota): "My health is really good. It's better than it's been since I really can remember. It's taken a lot of hard work to get to this point, but I can assure you I've put in my hours. I've done everything I can to do my part to make sure we're back in contention this year. Obviously, 2013 is going to be a year that will be forgotten as soon as we get to the racetrack at Daytona. What I take from it the most would be just the appreciation of when you do run well. I took for granted just making the Chase every single year and winning multiple races every year, just like it was easy. I just showed up and we did it. Now I think with the competition and how we ran at the end of last year, you've got to think about preparing for more weeks and preparing to be good. You can't just rely on talent to do it. This year I'm up to speed, to say the least, within our race team. But we're going to have a little bit of a struggle at the beginning of the year because ultimately we have a bad parking spot in the garage and we're going to miss the first 10 minutes of practice every week. Until we get ourselves back up in points where we should be I think the first few races will be tough for us. Other than that I think we'll be fine."
2014 goal: Advance deep into the Chase.
Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General/Husky Tools Toyota): "I was really proud of our whole 2013 season. We had a good last 10 races -- there were a couple of races where it could have been a little better, but we never had any real big problems, mechanical failures, wrecks, or anything like that. Obviously it wasn't quite good enough, but it wasn't devastating. They [the 48 team] just had a better 10 weeks. You always hope to go and try to top that and try to do better the following year, and I'm really looking forward to our second year together. I was really excited last year going into the season and there were a lot of unknowns. I was probably kind of nervous and not 100 percent comfortable. This year, I have a year to build on and kind of understand a little bit more what JGR is all about. We're hoping we can improve on the things we did last year. Jason made a lot of gutsy calls -- a couple calls I thought he was crazy, but pretty much all of them worked out. I'd rather have a guy going for the win every week than a guy going for the safe approach. He did that a lot last year, and it paid off a lot -- it put us in a position to win some races and put us in position to try to win a championship."
2014 goal: One position better in the final Sprint Cup standings.