Posted By: David Morgan – Follow at @damorgan86
February 12, 2016
As the calendar moves to 2016, the time has come to take a look ahead to the upcoming 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and how things could shake out for the teams planning to run full-time. Based on owner points from last season, we’ll make our way through the field with a team by team preview.
We’re onto our final preview of the 2016 season and as usual, the championship winning team gets that honor. Of course, we’re referring to Joe Gibbs Racing and their four-car stable of Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.
2015 Season in Review
When the season got underway at Daytona, Kyle Busch’s season was turned upside down before it even got started as Busch suffered a broken leg and foot in a vicious crash during the NASCAR Xfinity Series race the day before the Daytona 500. The injuries sidelined Busch for 11 races, but once he returned, he was a man on a mission.
Courtesy of a waiver granted by NASCAR, all Busch had to do was win a race and end the regular season in the top-30 in points. Busch took care of the win in his fifth race back behind the wheel at Sonoma and added another three wins in the four weeks following that to enter the Chase as one of the top seeds. With five top-five finishes and another finish inside the top-10 in the first nine races of the Chase, Busch punched his ticket into the championship race at Homestead, where he would lead 41 laps en route to the win and his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
All in all, Busch’s season total would include five wins, 12 top-five finishes, 16 top-10 finishes, one pole, 735 laps led and an average finish of 10.8 in 25 starts.
“This is just so unbelievable, so amazing and means so much right here, right now and probably will for a long, long time to come,” said Busch from the championship stage. “The opportunity that the amount of people that have poured their life and soul into everything that Kyle Busch does and is about – from M&M’s to Toyota to Snickers and Twix and Skittles, Joe Gibbs (team owner) and his family and all of Joe Gibbs Racing, everyone that gave me such a fast race car here tonight to drive. It was so much fun. This is just a dream come true and my family, my wife, my son – to have him this year and to have everything we’ve gone through this year to be in this moment – I don’t know what else to say, but this is so special.”
Edwards’ first season with Joe Gibbs Racing after moving to the team from Roush-Fenway Racing was nothing spectacular, with the team floundering in the mid-teens in the points and only making the Chase as a result of their two wins in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the Southern 500 at Darlington. Once in the Chase, the No. 19 team began to get their feet under them, making it to the Eliminator Round before being eliminated at Phoenix.
On a whole, 2015 should be considered a success for the team as they ended the year with the two wins, seven top-five finishes, 15 top-10 finishes, three poles, 376 laps led, an average finish of 14.0 and a final points finish of fifth, his best showing since finishing runner-up in the points in 2011.
Hamlin and his No. 11 team made the Chase for another year on the heels of a win at Martinsville in the spring, along with nine top-five finishes and 13 top-10 finishes. Once in the Chase, Hamlin won the opening race of the playoffs at Chicago and added another three top-five finishes in the next four races. However, a faulty roof hatch at Talladega and getting caught up in a subsequent wreck handed Hamlin a 37th place finish, eliminating him from the Chase and ending his championship hopes.
Hamlin’s totals for the season include his two wins, 14 top-five finishes, 20 top-10 finishes, three poles, 529 laps led, an average finish of 13.6, and a final points finish of ninth, a six position drop from his third place run in 2014.
Kenseth was strong in the regular season, tallying up four wins (Bristol, Pocono, Michigan, and Richmond) and entering the Chase as one of the top seeds. Once in the Chase, Kenseth won at New Hampshire in the first round to advance to the second round, where everything went to hell for the No. 20 team. A crash at Charlotte relegated Kenseth to a 42nd place finish, he was en route to the win at Kansas before being spun by Joey Logano to finish 14th, and a 26th place finish at Talladega put an end to his Chase as he was eliminated.
Of course, we all remember what happened the next week, when Kenseth intentionally spun Joey Logano and Martinsville, causing NASCAR to park him for the remainder of that race and the next two events at Texas and Phoenix. He would return to finish the season with a seventh place finish at Homestead, but the damage had been done by that point, as he ended the season 15th in points.
The season totals for Kenseth include five wins, 12 top-five finishes, 20 top-10 finishes, four poles, 927 laps led, and an average finish of 14.3 in his 34 starts.
Joe Gibbs Racing led the Sprint Cup garage with 14 wins in 2015 and given their overall strength from last season, there is no reason to think the fearsome four from JGR wouldn’t be able to repeat in 2016.
Through the offseason, the only changes that were made were as a result of crew chief changes for two of the four teams. Defending champion Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens will stay together in 2016, as will Matt Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff.
Mike Wheeler, who had spent 10 years with the No. 11 team before serving as crew chief for the No. 20 team in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2015, will move back to the Cup Series and the No. 11 team of Hamlin as crew chief in 2016.
With Wheeler on board for Hamlin, his crew chief from 2015, Dave Rogers, will move over to become crew chief for Edwards in his second season with the team, replacing the departing Darian Grubb.
“I think every year you evaluate each of your teams however and sometimes during that process you find that a change might be in the best interest for all involved. Mike Wheeler is obviously someone that has a long history with Denny (Hamlin) and that No. 11 team. After seeing what he accomplished as a crew chief in our XFINITY Series program last year we felt the timing was right to move him back into our Cup program,” said team owner Joe Gibbs.
“Dave Rogers has also been successful in every role he has had with us and we think he will work well with Carl (Edwards) going into 2016.”