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Tour Notes: No. 11 Team Plans Comeback

| , RacinToday.com Monday, January 23 2012

J.D. Gibbs and Joe Gibbs talked about changes at Joe Gibbs Racing on Monday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)


Notes and quotes from Monday’s Day 1 of the NASCAR Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour:

2011 season was a step-back season for Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing. He and his team followed their strong run for the Chase championship the year before with a one-win season in which they made the playoffs but never really challenged.

Changes were made in the off season, the most obvious of which was the replacing of long-time crew chief Mike Ford with Darian Grubb.

Hamlin said the freshening of the team will lead to better results in 2012.

“I think our team is going to look totally different even though there’s just a few changes here and there,” he said. “It’s going to be atotal different race team I feel like.  I’ve got two different people speaking in my ear and you’ve got a lot of energy within theshop.  I know you hear that a lot, but we’ve really gone through some big changes with our team and it’s obviously got a lotof people excited.”

Grubb comes to the team after being the crew chief for Tony Stewart the last several years. That partnership led to the Cup championship last year.

Hamlin said he feels lucky to have Grubb on his side this year.

“It was big for us because he had so many good options and he had an offer from every race team in the garage area,” Hamlin said. “For him to pick me as his driver and continuing to want to be a crew chief, that’s a big deal. So, at least it gives you the faith that the guy has got a lot of faith in your talents and that you can bring him another championship.”

Look for a turnaround this coming season, Hamlin said.

“I think we’re going to be going to the race track with completely different race cars. I can’t get a heck of a lot in depth with it, but just some of the things that we’re building in our race cars and things like that are just, gosh, things that I’ve wanted for a long time but it’s been hard to get past the departments here and there. We feel like we’re heading in a good direction, there’s no doubt about it. I feel like Toyota is getting stronger than what they were last year, all three teams are on the same engine program, we’ve got an alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing – there’s a lot of things that are stronger this time around. And, on top of that my confidence is way higher right now than it was to start 2011.”

Kyle Busch hopes that subtraction will result in addition in 2012: addition of success.

Busch announced earlier that he plans to cut back on competing in Camping World and Nationwide series races this coming season.

At the Joe Gibbs Racing Tour stop, he explained his thoughts on the benefits of less racing.

“It’s certainly a possibility,” Busch said of improving his Cup operation, “but you know in 2008 and 2009 I ran the most races that I’ve ever run in a season and didn’t have any issues. Things went pretty well those couple of years. I think it’s been most frustrating for me because I’m getting more and more into my Cup Series career and I have yet to win a championship.

“For me, you get down to the end of the season and the first 26 races go well and then you start the Chase and you kind of fumble a little bit and you’re chasing a ball sometimes. We still had a shot –we were running fourth or fifth in points at Talladega and then got crashed out there. Then we’re fifth in points or something like that in Martinsville and we get crashed out there. Your whole season’s shot. It’s not like one week’s gone – like you didn’t win that race or something. You’ve got to wait all the way until next February to start a whole new year in order to get down to November. Think about it – when you throw a whole year of your life away, it’slike, ‘Damn, this sucks.”

Tony Stewart said that do double duty at Daytona next month.

The defending Sprint Cup champion said he will attempt to win his seventh NASCAR Nationwide Series race on the high banks on Feb. 25.

This year Stewart will drive the No. 33 Oreo 100th Anniversary Chevrolet fielded by Richard Childress Racing. Stewart has won the last four NASCAR Nationwide season openers at Daytona and hopes to add a fifth-straight victory next month.

Darian Grubb, who won the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship with Tony Stewart, was hired to replace Mike Ford as crew chief for Denny Hamlin on the No. 11 FedEx Toyota.

“I’m really excited to join Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 11 FedEx team,” Grubb said. “We’re having lots of fun, we’re having lots of meetings. We’re kind of setting the course for what we want to do. We want to go out there and be competitive.”

Also at Gibbs, crew chief Jason Ratcliff was promoted from the team’s NASCAR Nationwide Series operation to replace Greg Zipadelli as crew chief of the No. 20 Home Depot/Dollar General Toyota driven by Joey Logano.

“J.D. (Gibbs) gave me the opportunity about seven years ago to come over and work on the Nationwide program,” said Ratcliff. “It has been great for seven years and I knew it would have to be a really special deal to move beyond that.

“They’ve given me an opportunity that fits well with a great driver, with great sponsors like Home Depot and Dollar General, and a team that is eager to go out and win races,” Ratcliff added.

The one driver at Joe Gibbs Racing that didn’t get a new crew chief is Kyle Busch, who will again partner with Dave Rogers for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Quotes of the day:

Tony Gibson, crew chief for Ryan Newman in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, on working for the last two owner-driver champions (Tony Stewart and Alan Kulwicki) in Sprint Cup competition: “He (Kulwicki) loved to race. It was all about racing and all about winning. … Stewart has that same desire. In his heart all he wants to do is race.”

Darian Grubb, on transitioning from working at Stewart-Haas Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing: “The hardest part of the transition so far has been getting my three-year-old son to say Denny Hamlin is his favorite driver.”

Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, when asked if 2012 is a make-or-break year for him: “I don’t make anything of it. It’s no difference to me. You should treat every year like it’s a make it or break it year. So, what’s the difference? That’s how I look at it. I should go out there and try to win every race, whether it’s contract year or not. There’s no difference there for me.”

| , RacinToday.com Monday, January 23 2012
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