NASCAR: Joe Gibbs Racing prepares for new era as 4-car team (VIDEO)

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Jimmy Makar has been with Joe Gibbs Racing in various roles since its very beginnings back in 1991. He won a Sprint Cup title in 2000 as crew chief for Bobby Labonte and saw Tony Stewart add two more titles to the team’s trophy case (2002, 2005) before becoming JGR’s senior vice president of racing operations.

He’s watched as the team has evolved from a single-car entity at the start to its new four-car squad, which will hit the track for the first time this upcoming Cup season.

But he says that JGR’s most recent expansion to include the incoming Carl Edwards has been the toughest to pull off.

“It’s been quite an ordeal,” Makar said during JGR’s press conference Monday for the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It seems like to me, after going to a second team and then a third team, this fourth team is exponentially harder. Because you’ve got so many more people involved than the first team.

“We went from 17 people to 50-something people the first time around, so it wasn’t so bad. Now, we’re in the 400-500 people range, and that’s a lot more people to deal with. We had a new employee meeting and we looked around the room. The auditorium we had, there were about 100 seats…and there were people sitting on the steps.

“We filled that up plus, so it just goes to show you how much it’s grown and how much of an undertaking it is to do a fourth team.”

Adding to a busy offseason for JGR has been a major shuffle of its crew chiefs.

Darian Grubb, former crew chief for Denny Hamlin, is now with Edwards on the new No. 19 team. Kyle Busch’s former crew chief, Dave Rogers, is now running with Hamlin and the No. 11 camp. And moving up to replace Rogers on Busch’s No. 18 side is Adam Stevens, who had been Busch’s crew chief in the XFINITY Series.

Only one driver-crew chief pairing remained intact through it all – Matt Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff on the No. 20 team. However, Hamlin believes everything from the expansion to the crew chief shake-up will be worth it.

“All of those changes, the personnel changes and crew chief changes we’ve done with the organization, it’s the best move for everyone here,” he said. “A lot of the concerns that you have as a driver when you bring on an extra team is if [you’re] spreading yourself too thin. And I think JGR has done a great job of hiring really good staff over this off-season to accommodate that fourth car. For me, it makes me excited about the prospects of what JGR’s got in store for this year.”

Busch is also confident that JGR can be successful as a four-car team. He said that in addition to Edwards providing even more veteran leadership and “another bank to pull from” in finding performance on the track, JGR will benefit from the extra infrastructure as well.

“The money that’s left in order to add on the extra engineers, and the body guys, the chassis guys, and all that stuff just to build more cars and to keep up with all the demands NASCAR makes and requires for four teams – I think that’s a huge added bonus as well,” he explained.

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

James Black/IndyCar
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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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