JGR Announces Crew Chief Changes
Joe Gibbs Racing announced its crew chief lineup Thursday, with multiple changes coming to its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams. The crew chief shuffle comes months after the news that Carl Edwards would join JGR in 2015, making the team a four-car operation.
Two of Joe Gibbs Racing's returning three drivers will have new crew chiefs after the organization decided to swap some positions internally.
The changes: Darian Grubb will shift from Denny Hamlin to Edwards; Dave Rogers will shift from Kyle Busch to Hamlin; Adam Stevens will be Busch's new crew chief. Jason Ratcliff will remain with Matt Kenseth.
Grubb has 21 career wins in NASCAR's premier series, seven of which came with Hamlin over a span of three years. Previously, Grubb was atop the pit box of Tony Stewart and Casey Mears, with his three-year stint alongside 'Smoke' producing 11 wins and one championship.
Ironically, Grubb's championship effort came at the expense of Edwards, who lost to Stewart on a tiebreaker in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup three years ago.
"To be able to work with Darian is very special for me. I saw firsthand how tough he is in 2011," Edwards said. "I mean, he was flawless on the box, and from where I was sitting, that was extremely impressive so the opportunity to work with him and especially to work with him coming off this season and I know how bad he wants it.
"He's different than a lot of the crew chiefs I've worked with. He's very calm and he's like Bob Osborne, and that relationship was really good. We did very well together, and I've worked with great crew chiefs. Jimmy Fennig, this year, I mean he showed me just how hard of a racer a person can be. But to be able to work with Darian, I think it's an opportunity for me to be able to learn."
Rogers had been Busch's full-time crew chief since 2010 and has 13 wins with the No. 18 team. Their best finish in the points standings was fourth last year, and the change comes on the heels of a season in which the two had an instance or two of displeasure over the radio.
Rogers told SiriusXM's NASCAR Radio said his familiarity with Hamlin from their work together in the Nationwide Series will help the transition (Hamlin won seven races in NASCAR's No. 2 series with Rogers) and that the comfort level of some of the crew chiefs past work helped to set up the pairings.
"Denny and I have worked together on the Nationwide side," Rogers said. "Really had a great working relationship over there with the Rockwell Automation car. And then Adam now has a great relationship with Kyle working on the Monster Energy car. So it's kind of a deal where, quite honestly, none of our teams are running as well as we wanted to so it's a good way to liven things up by making some changes. But you're pairing a new crew chief in Adam Stevens with a driver he's comfortable with. And you're pairing a driver and a crew chief, in myself and Denny, together that also has that same comfort. I think from Joe's perspective it made sense on a lot of fronts."
Hamlin equated the personnel swap to virtually taking over the wheel of Busch's No. 18 team -- the exception being that his pit crew, one of the best in the business, remains intact on the No. 11.
"I think it's a great deal for me and really, Carl's stepping into a great situation with Darian, and I know what he's capable of doing, and he's getting really all of my A-team mechanics and everything," Hamlin said. "No one got slighted on this deal whatsoever, so we've really got some good things going for us."
Stevens is getting promoted from the NASCAR Nationwide Series to fill Rogers' spot atop the No. 18 pit box. In just four years in the series, he won 31 races -- most with Busch behind the wheel of the No. 54 Toyota.
"The guys that he works around and the team and everything that he's put together on the Nationwide series level, everyone respects him, they love him, they think he's smart and of course I do as well, Busch said. "The relationship we've had over the last year that's gone really well, we've won lots of races and been competitive. I think that Nationwide level (of competition) is obviously a lot less than at Sprint Cup level but still I think he's got a good repertoire within the shop and with his guys. When you can have all that, there's no better thing than to try and move that guy up."
Ratcliff and Kenseth have been together for two years, finishing second and seventh in the final standings. The duo won six races together in 2013. (Kenseth won seven races himself, one with a substitute crew chief.)
"With the expansion of our NASCAR Sprint Cup Series operations to four teams next year with the addition of Carl Edwards, we have been able to take a step back and evaluate each of our teams and make decisions that we feel are best for our organization long term," said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, in a team release. "Like Jason and Dave previously, Adam (Stevens) has clearly proven that he is ready to move into the Cup Series and we feel that his familiarity with Kyle provides the opportunity for us to make that move now. We think pairing Dave with Denny and Darian with Carl will also make each team stronger heading into next season. Jason and Matt came together quickly and we felt it was in the best interest of the 20 team to keep it as is."
The organization also announced its crew chief lineup for the 2015 XFINITY Series.
Eric Phillips will lead the efforts of Daniel Suarez in the No. 18, Mike Wheeler -- who filled in for Grubb during a six-race stretch on the No. 11 Sprint Cup team -- will lead the No. 20 group (mutiple drivers) and Chris Gayle will replace Stevens on the No. 54.