With the start of Speedweeks at Daytona now just days away, it’s easier to ask Kyle Busch to explain what hasn’t changed with his team than to outline what has.
“I kind of feel like I got fired from the 18 car and moved over to the 20 guys with the way everything played out, how it looks in the shop,” Busch chuckled on Friday afternoon.
Joe Gibbs Racing rearranged two of its four Cup Series teams’ personnel when the 2020 season ended. Adam Stevens moved over to the No. 20 team with Christopher Bell while Busch now works with crew chief Ben Beshore. Beshore previously served as a race engineer on Busch’s No. 18 team and did a stint in the Xfinity Series as a Gibbs crew chief (where he won four races with Busch in the car).
But Busch is surrounded by many other new faces and things, too. Because when Stevens made the move to Bell, he took most of his crew with him.
“Last time this all went down was 2015 when I had Dave Rogers,” said Busch. “We were transitioning from Dave in 2014 to Adam in 2015. Adam, obviously he brought in kind of a whole new group of guys beside the car chief. Nate Bellows is the car chief, and the same thing kind of happened again where Adam went over to Christopher Bell and took all of his guys — the number one, the number two engineer, interior guy, the shock guy, the front-end mechanic, the underneath guy — everybody. The whole team stayed with Adam besides Nate.
“Nate and I, we’ve had a working relationship over the years, so he and I have stuck together again. So, Ben brings in himself, and he’s working with the No. 20 team engineer from last year … and then the number two engineer as well from that group, and then pretty much all the guys are all 20 guys.”
It doesn’t end there. The group that left Busch kept the No. 18 hauler, and Busch now has a new hauler. In the shop, that team works with their same surface plate, and Busch has a new one.
“So, there’s this whole thing mentally in my head that I kind of got fired and rehired,” Busch continued. “Maybe that’ll hold true with how it looked in 2007 to 2008 from Hendrick to Gibbs, and I went off and won eight races. It’s a new challenge; it’s a whole new group, but looking forward to it.”
Busch and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing hopes that change will bring a change in mindset. After claiming his second series title in 2019, Busch was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last season and didn’t win a race until Texas in late October. It was the first time since 2014 that Busch was kept to just one win in a season.
But Texas was also a turning point. Before Busch’s car was built for that event, Stevens came to him and asked if they should continue doing what they always do or explore an entirely new path. Busch said they had nothing to lose and wanted to go down a new route.
“And lo and behold, we win Texas,” said Busch. “So, I feel like there was something to that and that kind of opened up some eyes around JGR as a whole — and hopefully, what we can do to get ourselves back in the right frame of mind to go out there and have a more successful season as a group, as a four-car group. Not just the 18 team.”
The Gibbs organization won nine races last season, but only Denny Hamlin won multiple races. Hamlin was also the only driver to make it to the final four.
“With just seeing Denny running well, and myself and Martin (Truex) and obviously Erik Jones kind of struggling, we definitely want to get JGR back up on the peak to go out there and win more races,” said Busch.
“This year’s schedule is different than last year’s schedule. You got more road courses, you’ve got a dirt race in there, you’ve got less 550 (horsepower) races and more 750 races. So all of that gets thrown into the equation too.”
It will be up to Beshore — the fifth crew chief Busch has worked with at Gibbs — to solve that equation with his driver.