NASCAR Media Tour: JGR News and Notes — Toyota Racing, Part 1

Joe Gibbs Racing will boast quite a formidable drivers' lineup in 2015

(Editor's note: Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards met the media today in Charlotte. Here is the first part of the transcript)

KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

How strange is the off-season without testing?

"This off-season has been a little bit strange without the on-track NASCAR-type testing that we're all accustomed to whether it's Charlotte or going to Vegas or doing a west coast swing-type thing or even going to Daytona for preseason testing. Not being able to be in a car at all is different and the first time we get back in it will be practice for the Shootout here in a few weeks."

Was the new Chase format a success?

"I think it was certainly a success — the new Chase format was certainly a success for the fans, for NASCAR and maybe not for some particular drivers like myself, but all in all just looking back on the things and taking a grander look at it, I thought it was exciting. I thought it was what the sport needs. It's going to be ultimately stressful trying to come down to the last race of the year and have your whole season just rely on that final pit stop or that final run to the finish to try to win a championship like that. That's what pressure is all about and that's what it boils down to when you have to be able to put it all on the line and make it happen."

What does Carl Edwards bring to Joe Gibbs Racing?

"Carl (Edwards) brings to the team him being a veteran guy and that is a huge addition versus it being a rookie-type guy that we were making a fourth car for. To have Carl come on board, I think that's going to be great for our team and to have that veteran-type leadership like Denny (Hamlin) or myself or Matt (Kenseth) has that we're all able to communicate right off the bat really well. The biggest thing is just the infrastructure and the amount of money that's left in order to add on the extra engineers and the body guys and the chassis guys and all that stuff just to build more cars and keep up with everything and all the demands that NASCAR makes and requires for four teams, I think that's all obviously a huge added bonus as well."

Do you expect the rule changes to benefit your driving style?

"I'd certainly like to think that the rule changes for this year with the aero and the engines changes will benefit my sort of style a little bit more. Why I'm so good in the Xfinity Series, I'm not exactly sure, but I'd like to be able to keep that tradition going in that series and if I can carry it over to the Cup Series with the cars becoming closer together. I look forward to the opportunity and the challenges that present themselves for this year, but also the opportunity for me to work with Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and to bring him up the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series level and to hopefully carry on our same success that we had in Nationwide."

How differently do you attack this season after watching the new Chase format last season?

"I think you have to attack this year differently than what has happened in years past and based off the information we all learned last year through the Chase and everything that happened. One scenario that I've got is that my win at California if Kyle Larson would have pushed the issue a little bit more and he would have won that race it would have knocked us out of the Chase the way things fell and Larson would have been in the Chase. You have to look at it every single week as that could be your shot to get into the Chase and there isn't necessarily next week. There is, but if you don't get it or make it happen within the next however many weeks before the Chase starts then essentially you've not given yourself the opportunity to make the Chase."

What advice have you received from other drivers about becoming a father?

"There's been situations where you're just casually talking to (Matt) Kenseth or Denny (Hamlin) or whatever about kids and some of the stories that you hear. I've also talked with (Jamie) McMurray and (Aric) Almirola so you get to talk to those guys who have had kids and just kind of hear some of their stories and how they did it and what they do. It does give you a new perspective. I have no way to know what to expect with what's coming, but people tell you all the time what to expect. I think every situation is different. You're family and your livelihood, how you grew up and how your wife and how they were raised and how they grew up and trying to merge those together into how you want to raise your kid is going to be challenging, but something that Samantha (wife) and I look forward to."

ADAM STEVENS, crew chief, No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

How has the transition to the Cup side gone?

"Right now, it's not a lot of fun — I'm not working on cars right now (while at the media event). In general, it's different. It's a lot more people to manage and a lot more complicated. There's about 500 employees at Joe Gibbs Racing and only a small percentage of those are devoted to Xfinity, so as a Xfinity crew chief you don't get exposed to everything going on (with the Cup program)."

CARL EDWARDS, No. 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What makes you so excited for this season to get started?

"The reason I'm so excited every year to start racing is because when I began racing — like most racers, you don't even know if you're going to be able to race that year. It's still really nice for me to go into the winter and know that we've got the Daytona 500 coming up and I'm going to be a part of it. This year is a little bit different. It reminds me of my first year full time in the Cup Series. I feel like I've really got to prove myself. I feel a little anxious, a little nervous about it and that's nice. I haven't had that feeling for a long time and it's a motivator. I'd say I'm as focused as I've ever been and I am as excited as I've ever been. This is a neat opportunity for me."

Edwards will drive the #19 Arris Toyota

What does it feel like to be part of Joe Gibbs Racing?

"It's still a bit surreal to realize that I'm a part of this and so much work has gone into this fourth team. It's really neat. It feels like my first chance in the Sprint Cup Series all over again and that's a great feeling."

What has been the secret to so many drivers changing teams and having success?

"To make this decision — obviously it's the toughest decision I've made in my life period. I looked around and all these guys were making changes and doing very well. You take Tony Stewart's change — when he left Joe Gibbs Racing, I thought that was crazy. That didn't seem like it made any sense, but it spurred great performance. Joey Logano, he made a change and huge performance and at the same time Matt Kenseth came over and filled Joey's seat and his performance went through the roof. Kevin (Harvick) and Ryan (Newman) this year basically switched teams and they both were one-two. I didn't understand that until we first made the announcement and I got that feeling I was talking about earlier — that feeling of, 'Man, I have to go prove myself.' That little bit of insecurity that every driver walks around with for a long time, I haven't had the feeling for a while and I'm curious to see if that's it. Either way, I hope I can do the same thing those guys have done and have a great year."

Are you the driver to beat this season?

"If I take a look at it as objectively as I can — Darian Grubb is an amazing crew chief, just amazing. The JGR organization statistically and if you've been there you know they are just an amazing place. I feel like I have experience and have learned a lot. I feel like I'm in the best form I've ever been in as a driver. We should have good opportunities to go perform at a very high level."

How important is team chemistry?

"I believe that the more we can work together as a group, the better off we will be. I believe that I am in a lot better position to do that now than I was when I first came into the Cup Series. I didn't really understand the team aspect of the sport very well and like I've said before, I was not a great teammate. I was kind of a 'every man for himself' driver, but I've learned over time and through working with drivers like Matt (Kenseth) and Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, everything he did for me
— Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse — all these guys. The last few years especially, I've learned the value of what everyone contributes. I'm excited to be part of a four-car team that is this stout. These guys are amazing. Just really excited about that."

Is it odd to switch to a new team in the middle of a testing ban?

"I had the opportunity to go test for two days at Charlotte in December, which everyone at RFR (Roush Fenway Racing) was great for accommodating that — that was amazing, but it is a little wild. It was possible that we were going to go to Daytona and not have any practice in the car. That was a little scary, but if you look at the Chase format, it allows for some growing pains. You can go 20 races and then hit your stride and still be a championship team. We feel like with this new format there's not a lot of pressure to start and we can go out and find our way."

Do you expect Toyota to do things differently technically?

"It seems like the way that they do things technically is quite a bit different — I'm still understanding all of that and all of the reports and the planning and the way that they keep track of everything is different. I still am learning that. As we go, that will be something that I need to get a little bit of time to get used to."

Denny Hamlin with girlfriend Jordan Fish

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Are you eager to work with Dave Rogers?

"I think it's going to add just a level of excitement. Any time you get new personnel, there's new ideas. I think he (Dave Rogers, crew chief) uses a lot of what he worked with Kyle (Busch) and had success with and I'll bring a lot of what me and Darian (Grubb, former crew chief) had success with and hopefully it pairs up to be something very, very good. I'm just as confident this year as I've ever been, but Dave is a guy that can definitely take us to the next level."

How do you feel about the Chase format staying the same for 2015?

"I think it's a very good thing that they're (NASCAR) keeping the Chase the exact same. I think it gives fans another year to kind of familiarize themselves with that format and to educate their friends about it. I think it really hit a home run and I knew when they were going to have an elimination-type format that every race of the Chase was going to be important — every single race — and it turned out that way. You were constantly battling to stay out of that bottom four. We faced elimination ourselves. We were outside looking in like once or twice and we were able to keep going. That's what this all worked out to be and it was a lot of fun and I'm still a race fan and it was fun to see it all play out. I think they really found something that is going to latch on for a long time."

Toyota Racing

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