Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief was ‘caught off guard’ by recent team changes

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for Texs Motor Speedway)
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When the 2015 season ended, Dave Rogers was the crew chief for the No. 11 driven by Denny Hamlin.

In 53 days, Rogers will start the 2016 season as crew chief for the No. 19 of Carl Edwards. The move was part of an announcement a couple of weeks ago that also included the return of Mike Wheeler to the No. 11.

Rogers, appearing on SiriusXM NASCAR radio, said he accepts the move even though it surprised him, especially after Hamlin and all four Joe Gibbs Racing teams made the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“Denny’s a brother to me,” Rogers said. “I love him to death. It caught me off guard, ‘You want me to work with someone other than Denny?'”

Roger has spent the majority of his career with JGR. Before the 2015 season, Rogers worked on the No. 18 of Kyle Busch for five years. He said the decision to make the move came down to trying to improve the communication and chemistry of a “true four-car team.”

“A couple of years ago we were tough on ourselves,” Roger said. “We openly admitted that we missed the boat on speed, the cars weren’t good enough. We were really tough on each other. The guys at the shop rebounded with such character and integrity.”

JGR won the championship with Kyle Busch. Hamlin and Matt Kenseth were eliminated after the second round of the Chase and Edwards survived until the third. As a whole, JGR combined for 14 wins. That was 12 more than it earned in 2014.

“You have to capitalize on those situations,” Roger said. “It’s not every year you get cars like that. Some years you’re on. Some years you’re off. Coach and the management staff felt there was room for improvement with the 19 and 11 … and they made some changes.”

2015 was the first season JGR operated four Sprint Cup cars after Carl Edwards joined it from Roush Fenway Racing. It, Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart Haas Racing are the only four-car teams in the Sprint Cup heading into 2016.

“That’s one thing that’s really complicated about JGR, we’re a true four-car team,” Rogers said. “We’re four cars working together. There’s eight race engineers sitting in a cubicle working together. All four crew chiefs sit shoulder-to-shoulder. It’s a huge team.

“I think we work together more than I believe other teams do and that makes it extremely complicated. There’s a ton of relationships in that that have to be managed.”

Whether JGR made the right management decision will be determined once the season starts in February.