LAS VEGAS — When Joe Gibbs Racing signed Kyle Busch to its already volatile lineup of drivers, even Tony Stewart questioned how the personalities would mesh.

The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — When Joe Gibbs Racing signed Kyle Busch to its already volatile lineup of drivers, even Tony Stewart questioned how the personalities would mesh.

"My first reaction was, this is going to be a train wreck," said Stewart, a 10-year veteran of JGR.

When team president J.D. Gibbs called him to tell him the organization was leaving the comfortable Chevrolet camp to be the anchor at fledgling Toyota, Stewart was again skeptical.

"I thought he was joking at first," he explained. "It just came out of left field."

But just like signing Busch, the switch to Toyota made sense to an ownership group that carefully considers the affects every move has on the long-term viability of the family business. Although it's very early into this season of change, two of the biggest moves in company history appear to have hit the mark.

Busch heads into Sunday's race in his hometown of Las Vegas as the Sprint Cup points leader. He's got a pair of top-five finishes for Toyota, which scored only two of them all of last year. Stewart, who nearly won the Daytona 500, sits third in the series standings and is just 19 points behind Busch. Denny Hamlin gave Toyota its first victory in the cup series by winning one of the non-points qualifying races before the Daytona 500. Bad luck through the first two races has him mired back in 31st in the standings, but no one expects him to stay there for long.

In its 17th season of NASCAR, this is the strongest JGR has ever been. With three legitimate championship contenders on the roster and a leading role with manufacturer Toyota, owner Joe Gibbs has created a team that's secure for his 400-plus employees and strong enough to still be around when his grandchildren are ready to take over.

"I never dreamed we'd wind up where we are. When we started our first year with 17 people, I kind of thought that's the way it would be — you just can't dream about the way it's exploded," said Gibbs.

"We want to win and we want to win championships. And every decision we make, we make it to try and run fast and win races. We don't want to be second."

In NASCAR, everybody is chasing Hendrick Motorsports, a team that won 18 of 36 races last season and its second straight Cup title. And since both Hendrick and JGR fielded Chevrolets, Gibbs knew it would never get ahead if both teams worked under the General Motors umbrella.

So after 16 years and 58 victories, JGR decided to leave Chevrolet. "Joe Gibbs Racing has always been a GM team, and when I realized he was serious, I thought 'This is big,'" Stewart recalled.

Really big.

JGR decided to tie its future to Toyota, which struggled tremendously in its first season at NASCAR's highest level.

Busch and Stewart, who famously feuded a few years ago following on-track aggression at Daytona, are long past it. And Busch scored major points two weeks ago when he stopped by Stewart's motor home to deliver a gift he was certain the two-time champion would love: A DVD of Stewart's favorite movie, "Smokey and the Bandit."

Hamlin and Stewart proved they can work together when they teamed up to hold off Jeff Gordon in the Daytona qualifying race two weeks ago.