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“What If?” Part II: What if Joe Gibbs Racing Had Stayed with GM?

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 21:  Team owner Joe Gibbs watches the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford 300 from the grid at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2009 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jason Smith/Getty Images
David DubczakContributor IJanuary 12, 2010

It could have happened. Joe Gibbs Racing had been with General Motors since they started, first with Chevrolet, then with Pontiac, then back with Chevrolet. Driver Tony Stewart had a long personal association with GM.

Furthermore, Toyota’s initial foray into NASCAR racing in 2007 was dismal—their array of startup and third-tier teams struggled to even qualify for races, much less run competitively. Toyota once even confiscated driver Michael Waltrip’s car to analyze it and see why it was running so slow.

However, Gibbs realized he would never be one of the top teams at GM—Hendrick and Childress would always be ahead of him. So, he took a chance and moved his team to Toyota in 2008. They surprised everyone when they were successful, perhaps even more so than with GM.

What if Gibbs had not switched to Toyota? Toyota, and their teams, would be gone. Michael Waltrip Racing? Gone. Red Bull Racing? Gone. Bill Davis Racing? With or without Gibbs, they’re gone anyway.

You see, Gibbs proved to Toyota that money is not a replacement for experience. When Toyota came in, they loaded their teams with cash—all the Toyota teams were practically factory teams. They had everything they needed.

Except experience.

When Gibbs began running Toyotas, they could share bits of information that helped improve all the teams, from chassis to engines. They couldn’t keep this information to themselves because, for their sake, they needed the rest of the Toyota teams to run better as well; else Toyota might pull out of the sport entirely and leave Gibbs hung out to dry yet again.

What about the Nationwide Series? Before Toyota, JGR was a respectable Nationwide team, winning every once in a while just like everyone else. But something happened after they switched to Toyota. All of a sudden, they absolutely dominated.

In 2008, JGR drivers won 20 of 35 races, including an impressive eight in a row. In 2009, their success continued with 35 races. NASCAR instituted several rule changes, most suspected to have been created specifically to slow Gibbs and the Toyotas.

Without Toyota, the face of the Nationwide Series would be vastly different.

And now, in 2010, many (including The Racing Tool) consider Joe Gibbs Racing and Denny Hamlin to be the team with the best shot at unseating Jimmie Johnson from the championship berth he has sat in for four years now.

When Toyota began preparing for a Sprint Cup effort in 2007, the long-established NASCAR teams began freaking out at what Toyota might do because of all the money the manufacturer was pouring into the effort.

Then, they showed up at Daytona in 2007 with an epic dive off a cliff. Joe Gibbs Racing saved Toyota’s effort. Without Gibbs, things would look different today.

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