Boasting strong lineup of drivers, Joe Gibbs Racing enters 2013 with high hopes

Jared C. Tilton

With just 98 days between the 2012 season finale at Homestead and the 2013 Daytona 500, the NASCAR offseason is one of the shortest in all of sports. As a result, teams have precious little time to assess what went right, what went wrong and the areas where improvements must be made.

Here is a look at the 10 teams which placed cars inside the top 25 in the owner point standings and what each team needs to do this offseason.

The first team under the microscope is Joe Gibbs Racing:

2012 In The Rearview

It was a mixed bag of success for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2012. The positives include Denny Hamlin quickly gelling with new crew chief Darian Grubb, winning five races and reestablishing himself as a threat to win the championship. In addition, both Kyle Busch and Joey Logano made visits to Victory Lane -- Busch at Richmond, Logano at Pocono.

On the other hand, both Busch and Logano failed to make the Chase, and throughout the year JGR was plagued by engines which couldn't go the distance and other assorted mechanical failures. And when the checkered flag waved at Homestead, JGR failed to win the title for the seventh consecutive year.

2013 Driver Lineup

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota); Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota); Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot/Dollar General Toyota)

Key Changes

After four years of waiting for Joey Logano to have that breakout season, JGR officials decided a change was needed and jettisoned the driver who was once viewed as the heir apparent to Tony Stewart.

Filling Logano's seat is Matt Kenseth, who the team lured away from Roush Fenway Racing. Kenseth's arrival will bring instant credibility and should quickly transform the 20 team back to contenders.

And other than Kenseth's arrival, everything is status quo at JGR, as the driver/crew chiefs pairings on the 11 and 18 teams will remain as is.

Biggest Offseason Question

There is no doubting Kyle Busch's talent, and a case could be made that no driver suffered more bad luck than the 27-year-old wheelman. However, for the second time in four years Busch failed to qualify for NASCAR's postseason and that simply can't happen. Not when you possess his talent and drive for a team with the resources that JGR has at its disposal.

At some point soon, Busch needs to take the next step in his career and evolve from a driver who wins races to a driver who is contending and winning championships. In his five years with JGR, Busch has finished no better than eighth in points and has yet to seriously challenge for the title.

As a result, this offseason needs to be spent asking the hard questions of why Busch and the 18 aren't better than they are. While it's a lofty goal to shoot for, this is team that should be in the Chase perennially and win multiple races no matter how much bad luck comes their way.

Outlook

With three drivers who harbor realistic title hopes, this may be the best driver lineup JGR has ever fielded. Hamlin and Busch are both entering the prime of their careers and should continue to excel. As for Kenseth, he has shown no signs of slowing down and is coming off of consecutive seasons where he won three races. He also will provide JGR with leadership -- an area the team has been lacking.

Heading into 2013, anything short of winning the championship should be considered a disappointment; however it's an expectation JGR is fully capable of meeting.

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