Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Offseason Moves Paying Dividends

At the end of last season, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano were pointed in the wrong direction. After challenging for the Sprint Cup Series championship one year earlier, Hamlin was a non-factor in 2011, managing just one win and having no impact in the Chase en route to a ninth-place finish in points. Harvick won four times in 2011, but staggered terribly down the stretch to finish third in the final standings behind champion Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. Biffle managed only three Top-5 finishes and missed the Chase en route to 16th in the championship standings. Logano’s 2011 campaign was also an exercise in mediocrity; a 24th-place finish in points highlighted by just four Top-5 and six Top-10 finishes.
Hamlin is back on track.
At the end of the season, all four drivers signed off on major changes to their respective teams. Hamlin jettisoned crew chief Mike Ford in favor of Darian Grubb, who won the 2011 championship with Stewart before being released at season’s end. Harvick requested his own change at the crew chief position, with Shane Wilson replacing veteran Gil Martin. After a crew chief change at midseason, Biffle’s team underwent major offseason personnel changes, swapping in several members of Roush Fenway Racing’s disbanded No. 6 team. Logano saw veteran pit boss Greg Zipadelli accept the vacant Competition Director’s position at Stewart Haas Racing, with Jason Ratcliff promoted from the Nationwide shop to oversee the No. 20 Sprint Cup Toyota this season.
With just two races in the books, it appears that change may have been good for all four drivers.
Logano is on the rebound.
Hamlin has yet to finish outside the Top-5 this season, with a fourth-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a win Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. That performance has earned Hamlin the top spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
Harvick finished second at PIR Sunday, after running low on fuel while challenging for the win in the final laps. A seventh-place showing at Daytona has the Budweiser Chevrolet driver third in points, just eight behind Hamlin.
Biffle has posted back-to-back third place finishes in the opening two weeks of the season and is just sixth points behind Hamlin, second in the championship chase.
Logano is a solid eighth in points after a ninth at Daytona and a 10th in Phoenix.
Yes, it’s early. No, two races are not an adequate indicator of season-long succcess. But for Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano, the early returns are encouraging.

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