The NASCAR off-season saw a number of changes take place throughout the sport, and Joe Gibbs Racing is no exception.
Long-time crew chief Greg Zipadelli departed for Stewart-Haas Racing, while Mike Ford was replaced as crew chief atop Denny Hamlin’s pit box.
With Zipadelli gone for SHR, JGR opted to promote Jason Ratcliff from the Nationwide side of the organization to work with Joey Logano in the Sprint Cup Series. Ratcliff certainly knows how to win races in the Nationwide Series. In the past three years, the No. 18 car under Ratcliff’s direction scored back-to-back owner championships, 30 wins, 68 top-five, and 85 top-10 finishes.
Replacing Ford on the No. 11 team is championship winning crew chief Darian Grubb. Joining the organization after his title run with Tony Stewart, Grubb brings confidence, experience and a championship ring to the table.
After adding two new faces to the Sprint Cup organization, the Gibbs crew chiefs have been working hard during the off-season to mold a solid direction forward for the team. While crew chief Dave Rogers admitted the trio of crew chiefs are still “on our honeymoon,” he indicated the communication has been “very open.”
“I think we’re challenging each other, and most importantly, giving direction to this shop,” Rogers said.
“The last couple weeks we have done nothing but performance meetings, which are brainstorm sessions” he said. “Where do we have to be in six months? Where do we need to be in two years? Jason, Darian and I all seem to have a common thought process of what makes a race car go fast. Through that, we are able to make some changes fundamentally in the shop, help organize people with what type of projects we want to work on, and how we want our race cars to go.”
While Ratcliff has found success in the Nationwide Series, he is a rookie when it comes to running a Sprint Cup team. Despite his inexperience, he hopes to bring a simplistic approach to the organization on a whole.
“You can be really overwhelmed with how technical this sport can be, and how that has grown over the last five years is phenomenal,” he said. “You can get caught in that pretty quick and overlook the simple approach, the things that got us here. Those simple things will always work.”
With Grubb and Ratcliff joining the Sprint Cup organization so late in the off-season, Rogers admitted it would take some time before new cars and new ideas start to show up at the track, but the final product could look much different.
One of the most important parts of this process has been the feedback provided by JGR drivers Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. At the end of 2011, Hamlin often called for major changes within the organization, while Busch saw things much differently. By gathering their feedback and working closely together, all three drivers have already seen improvement.
“It’s very hard to pinpoint one thing that’s wrong with your race car,” Logano said. “All three of us drive differently, so there could possibly be three separate issues that are there. You’ve got to look at every bit of it, and try to find something, and work on all of them and hit on something eventually. We all put our two cents in it and sometimes we agree with each other, sometimes we don’t, but I value Kyle and Denny’s opinions as much as I value my own opinion and we look at it all equally.”
“All I can do is give the best feedback I can to these guys to send them in the right direction,” Hamlin said. “Hopefully that’s the right direction at the end when all is said and done. Just looking at some of the changes that have taken place in the off-season, I feel like a lot of things that I've said we should improve in this area or that area, is starting to really get a lot of attention right now.”
Team owner Joe Gibbs and team president J.D. Gibbs are not absent from this process either. On the contrary, the pair take a hands-on approach to the decisions that dictate the future of the team. Grubb explained this was one of the best things he has noticed in his short time at the organization.
“I think it’s good that (Joe and J.D. Gibbs) talk to everybody, communicate with everybody – competition side, engineering side, drivers, crew chiefs,” Busch said. “We all talk about it and figure out what’s best for Joe Gibbs Racing and how to make all of us the most competitive.”