It was just about three years ago that Joe Gibbs Racing was competing for another championship. Having not seen a title since 2005 when Tony Stewart was at the helm of their lead car, it seemed an impossible task, but one that went down to the wire.
Sadly, that year no title came of it, and since then despite strong runs during the regular season, Chase woes seemed to plague every driver in the JGR stable.
After their highest-profile driver missed the 2012 Chase, it seemed the time had come to make changes, and heading into the new year, that is evident. A fresh face, with championship experience, decided to make a major leap and give a new presence to an already established team.
Take a look at the driver line-up for JGR in the new season:
Denny Hamlin: No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry
Three years ago, Hamlin was in the hunt for a championship, only to have one race end his dreams. Two years ago, a one-win season was a disappointing follow-up to that title run.
Last year, the FedEx driver was the leader of the pack when it came to JGR and their season, rebounding from a lack-luster 2011 campaign. Hamlin would put his No. 11 in victory lane five times during the season, plus had 14 top-fives and 17 top-10's to go along with them, finishing sixth in the overall Chase standings.
The lead driver in Gibbs is ready to carry over that success into 2013, and now with a new baby, he has extra incentive to get into victory lane.
Matt Kenseth: No. 20 Home Depot/Dollar General Toyota Camry
Change is a good thing, but that is yet to be determined for a driver with an entire new team, from the location of the shop to the number on his car. Kenseth made the decision during 2012 to leave the only team he's ever raced for in his Cup career, Roush-Fenway, to take over the No. 20 Toyota vacated by Joey Logano, who signed with Penske Racing.
For Kenseth, this year will be about adjustment. He's in unfamiliar territory, and nothing is the same from years past. What he does have going for him is years of experience, and that will pay dividends for his teammates, who have not had veteran leadership or a champion driver since Stewart left following the 2008 season.
Kenseth's final year with RFR included three wins, 13 top-fives and 19 top-10's. He would finish a respectable seventh in the Chase, leaving his former team on good terms, handing the torch to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Kenseth can still win, and win often. The biggest challenge for him will be to adjust to the new surroundings.
Kyle Busch: No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry
Normally, this is a driver who not only makes the Chase, but is a favorite heading into it. But for some reason, the wheels fell off the wagon for the driver nicknamed "Wild Thing." His year started off with a wild victory in the Bud Shootout, then a win at a familiar track, Richmond.
Everything in between...subpar at best.
The win at Richmond would be the only one recorded by Busch in a points race all year. His 13 top-fives and 20 top-10's still were not enough to get him into the Chase, which came down to a battle between him and Jeff Gordon. What happened is unclear, whether not racing as much hurt him or just bad luck.
Engine failures didn't help his cause, as weeks of blown motors hindered his chances. But now, that year is done, and he's set to make another run at a title. Things will get wild, that's for sure, when Kyle gets behind the wheel.
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