Another new face joins the Joe Gibbs Racing lineup for the 2019 NASCAR season as the team looks for more continued success and another championship.
Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota (Crew Chief: Cole Pearn)
2018 stats: 2nd in points, 4 wins, 20 top five, 21 top tens, 4 poles, 30 playoff points
2018 recap: When the 2018 season started, no one knew it would be the last for Furniture Row Racing. There were some rumblings during the summer months and when it was eventually announced, many in the industry viewed it as the inevitable.
The team won four races in the first 19 races but went winless in the final 17 races. The little team that could almost did it again, coming up one position short at the championship race in Homestead.
2019 outlook: Truex Jr. will inherit the car vacated by Daniel Suarez. Crew chief Cole Pearn will be making the move with Truex Jr. over to Joe Gibbs Racing which will help with the transition. There won’t be much to transition, though, as the No. 78 team was already a JGR satellite team for the past two seasons.
Truex Jr. and Pearn have been used to being a single-car team for a majority of their time together. Now they will have to share notes and be part of larger team meetings. This shouldn’t change too much how they operate but could provide some learning curves at the beginning. Either way, a Championship 4 appearance is expected.
Kyle Busch, No. 18 M&M’s Toyota (Crew Chief: Adam Stevens)
2018 stats: 4th in points, 8 wins, 22 top fives, 28 top tens, 4 poles, 46 playoff points
2018 recap: Kyle Busch tied Kevin Harvick with the most wins, 8, during the 2018 season. That gives Busch 22 wins during the last four seasons, which is 43% of his 51 victories in the Cup Series. Busch has been one of the best drivers during that span.
The only problem is, so has Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. Busch’s fourth place finish at Homestead in the championship race is viewed as a disappointment after a statistically great season.
2019 outlook: Unlike his new teammate Martin Truex Jr., not much is changing on the No. 18 team. Busch will be expected to visit victory lane frequently and a trip to the championship round in Homestead is once again expected for this team.
Busch now has as many championships as rivals Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. If Busch reaches the championship round for the fifth straight year in 2019 and comes up empty again, there will certainly be questions about his ability to seal the deal.
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Toyota (Crew Chief: Chris Gabehart)
2018 stats: 11th in points, 0 wins, 10 top fives, 17 top tens, 4 poles, 11 playoff points
2018 recap: The 2018 season is one Denny Hamlin would like to forget. It was the first season since he began racing full-time in the Cup Series, 2006, that he failed to visit victory lane.
Hamlin struggled for a majority of the season and scored one less top-10 and only one more top-5 than teammate Erik Jones. His 11th place finish was his second worst, 12th in 2007, if you don’t count 2013 when he missed four races due to injury.
2019 outlook: Denny Hamlin will have a new crew chief for 2019 as his previous crew chief, Mike Wheeler, will take on the same role for Leavine Family Racing and their No. 95 car. Hamlin will work with Chris Gabehart who served as crew chief for JGR during last three seasons in the Xfinity Series.
Hamlin is a veteran racer and should adjust to a new crew chief pairing just fine. The bar is set relatively low after a disappointing season compared to previous years for Hamlin. Driving for JGR will always mean there are playoff expectations so Hamlin will need to focus on advancing further than in 2018.
Erik Jones, No. 20 DeWalt Toyota (Crew Chief: Chris Gayle)
2018 stats: 15th in points, 1 win, 9 top fives, 18 top tens, 1 pole, 5 playoff points
2018 recap: Erik Jones broke through in 2018 by scoring his first career victory at Daytona in July. He backed that up by earning four more top-5 and top-10 finishes than in 2017. A disappointing start to the playoffs saw a first found exit but in the second round he didn’t finish worse than 8th in those three races.
2019 outlook: With Daniel Suraez out of the picture, Jones will stand as the only driver on this roster under the age of 34 by the time the season ends. Jones will be the lone “young gun” on this team but will still need to prove his ability with Christopher Bell consistently picking up wins in the Xfinity Series.
A trip back to the playoffs is expected, a win would be helpful to Jones’ portfolio and advancing further in the playoffs is almost a must.
Follow Matt on Twitter, @mattlovisa.