DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The only crew chief driver combination that remained intact at Joe Gibbs Racing last season also was the only team that went winless in 2014.
After leading the Sprint Cup Series with a career-best seven victories in 2013, Matt Kenseth endured his first season without a checkered flag since 2010. But he enters the ’15 season with crew chief Jason Ratcliff for the third consecutive year.
“I think it was they couldn’t find another driver that wanted to work with me, probably,” Ratcliff said with a laugh Saturday night after Kenseth won the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway. “No, I mean, I really enjoy working with Matt. I don’t think that (a change) was ever a consideration. I think I know how Matt feels about it. Right out of the box in 2013, we were really strong, won a lot of races. Communication was strong.
“Last year we didn’t get to victory lane, but we had a great season when you look at our overall performance.”
Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota finished seventh in the points standings but managed 22 top 10s (two more than in ’13) during a down year for JGR. Teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch earned only a victory apiece, prompting crew chief changes for both cars. Dave Rogers moved to Hamlin’s No. 11 from Busch’s No. 18, which will be helmed by Adam Stevens (promoted from the Xfinity Series). Darian Grubb, who had spent three season with Hamlin, moved to the new No. 19 of Carl Edwards.
In just two seasons, Kenseth, 42, has become a rock for JGR and provided veteran leadership to Busch and Hamlin. The 2003 series champion credits much of his stability to Ratcliff.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in matching up a crew chief,” Kenseth said. “We talked about it a little bit. I told them I would support anything they did unless they tried to take Jason away from me. They could have done it, but I would have been kicking and screaming.”
Team owner Joe Gibbs said it wasn’t considered, though, and Kenseth’s first win in the exhibition opener at the 2.5-mile speedway seemed to validate the decision.
“Obviously these two guys have worked together so well, there was no thought there,” Gibbs said. “We really felt like this is one team we wanted to leave matched up.”