After winning just two races in 2014—the only victories any Toyota team earned that season—there’s no question Joe Gibbs Racing has hit upon something in 2015.
The venerable Huntersville, N.C. team has now won more than one-third of the 2015 races to date, capturing seven of the first 20. There are still 16 races to go, including the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Kyle Busch has won four of those races (including the last three in a row and four of the last five) while JGR teammates Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards have won one race apiece.
How is it that JGR has turned things around so dramatically from 2014?
Horsepower and speed would seem to be the biggest improvements. Meanwhile, the lack of those two elements was one of the biggest woes that JGR had to endure in 2014.
We all know that NASCAR is a very cyclical sport. Organizations oftentimes go through the highest of highs for several years before they fall backward and are passed by other organizations.
Look at Roush Fenway Racing. For many years, it was the premier organization in the Ford stable and one of the most successful organizations in the overall Sprint Cup Series.
But over the last two-plus seasons, RFR has been nothing but a shell of itself.
It’s the same thing with Richard Childress Racing. Even though Ryan Newman managed to reach the final round of last year’s Chase via consistency and points, RCR as a whole has not won a Sprint Cup race since 2013.
Kevin Harvick won four that season before departing at the end of 2013 to join Stewart-Haas Racing, and he went on to win the 2014 Sprint Cup championship.
That brings us back to Joe Gibbs Racing. After such a miserable year in the wins column in 2014—although Hamlin did reach the final round of the Chase—there’s no question that this is the most improved organization in Sprint Cup in 2015, period.
And with the way Busch and his teammates are going, JGR is arguably among the top contenders for the championship this season.
The interesting thing is that JGR and Toyota haven’t found anything radical in terms of improvement—or at least they’re not saying if they have.
The only addition to the overall JGR program has been the addition of Edwards, who joined the organization this season after more than a decade with RFR.
One other way to look at things is perhaps JGR is not having a great season overall—but Busch is.
Think about it. If Busch didn’t have his four wins right now, JGR would only have three wins collectively—barring the possibility of one of its other three drivers winning any of the races Busch has—had he not come back as soon as he did from his crash at Daytona in February.
And if that were the case, we’d probably be talking about how much of a mediocre season JGR has had to date.
Perhaps Busch is the real reason why JGR is suddenly the hottest team in the sport. He is the hottest driver in the sport.
But team owner Joe Gibbs looks at it a different way: While Busch has been a big part of his organization’s resurgence, it’s more than just the younger Busch brother.
"You can be on the top in pro sports, and a few little things turn, you can go right to being mediocre or in the back of the pack," Gibbs told ESPN after Sunday’s Brickyard 400. "It takes a lot of hard work to get back, and that's what I'm so proud of our team.
"It took us a full year and a half, but we bounced back. In pro sports you see that, and really what you have to say about pro sports, the hardest thing is what? To stay up there."
At its current pace, JGR is on track to equaling or bettering its 2013 pace, when Toyota overall won 14 races. Of these races, 12 came from JGR drivers: Kenseth with a series-high seven wins, Busch with four and Hamlin with one.
The other two Toyota wins came from Brian Vickers and Martin Truex Jr.
As we look ahead to the final 16 races, Busch appears almost unstoppable to make the Chase. And if he does make NASCAR’s 10-race marquee series, he has one of the best chances to win it all for the first time in his career.
But don’t count out the rest of the JGR camp. Kenseth has one championship under his belt, while Hamlin and Edwards have combined for a number of race wins, yet neither has won a Cup championship.
Whatever JGR has done to get where it’s at today, the main thing is to keep it going all the way through the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
And maybe then, Joe Gibbs will let us in on the secret of how his team has rebounded—if there is a secret to be told in the first place.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski