CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blog By RaceChaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker — AP Photo —
Coach Joe Gibbs is used to watching the “waiver wire” for football players who become available and fit his particular “scheme”. He, his son J.D. and their staff have carried that approach into their NASCAR program, and it has paid off big time over the past two years with major driver acquisitions that have grown their operation to four full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams for the 2015 season.
As I watched the press conference announcing the signing of Carl Edwards yesterday, I couldn’t help but think that both JGR and Toyota have a heightened sense of urgency about bringing their results back up to the level of Hendrick Motorsports. Though They’ve won championships with Tony Stewart in the past and numerous races with several drivers in the ‘Cup series, JGR has recently gone through a spell where they’ve made mistakes on and off the track and the results have not been up to expectations, theirs or anyone else’s.
By bringing in Edwards, new multilevel partner Arris Communications and a renewed commitment from Toyota to assist as they upgrade their program across the board (motor program included), JGR has clearly sent a signal to the rest of the NASCAR world that they want to be where Hendrick and even Penske Racing are now, fighting for championships and winning races.
If you look at 2014 so far, Hendrick Motorsports has nine wins in the ‘Cup series, with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. scoring three each. Penske Racing’s two-car tandem of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano combine for five wins.
JGR’s power trio of Kyle Busch (1 win), Denny Hamlin (1 win) and Matt Kenseth (no wins) have just two victories this season. That’s not a recipe for a happy coach or for a happy manufacturer. Toyota’s other flagship team, Micheal Waltrip Racing, hasn’t scored a win yet this season, either.
It was time for a change. But will the change be successful?
Time will tell. Toyota and Chevrolet have arguably fared the best on average over the past five years or so across NASCAR’s “big three’ national divisions, but the bowtie folks have much more to show for it in terms of championships and major wins.
If you discount Kyle Busch Racing’s inexplicable dominance of the Camping World Truck Series (well…mostly Kyle’s!), Toyota could be ranked third out of the four manufacturers in that time span, with Chrysler winning a ‘Cup Championship with Penske Racing and then leaving.
In my opinion, it will take more than just Carl Edwards to put JGR on a par equal with Hendrick. I think it’s going to take better engines, better reliability and keeping the ‘Cup drivers’ focus on ‘Cup. I know Kyle likes to go do his other things and that the profitability of his Truck team depends on him running some races, but I also know many drivers including Edwards have backed out of running shows in the lower divisions in order to keep their focus on the Sprint Cup side.
One thing is for sure. Joe Gibbs Racing is a shining example of the proper attitude, morals and values with which to do business. That’s why they attract the type of world-class partners (sponsors) that they have. Arris Communications is just the latest, and they’ve made a huge commitment out of the gate to provide the resources necessary to achieve their goals and the performance goals that JGR will have for next year.
I don’t see Penske or Hendrick weakening. In fact, with Chase Elliott (Hendrick) and Ryan Blaney (Penske) knocking at Sprint Cup’s door next year I see both of them only getting stronger in the near future. I believe JGR sees this too, and that’s why they made the moves they’ve made.
With the futures of Darrell Wallace, Jr., Sam Hornish and Elliott Sadler still to be determined, you can bet there are more moves to be announced in the coming weeks from Coach Gibbs and JGR.