Gragson, Ty Gibbs could give NASCAR tough decision on 2023 rookie status

Ty Gibbs wasn’t supposed to be in the NASCAR Cup Series yet. Not now at least. You can tell the plan all along for he and Joe Gibbs Racing was a second full-time year in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2023 and then move up to a Cup ride for 2024. However, with Kurt Busch’s injury in a qualifying crash at Pocono, Gibbs was since elevated to his Cup debut on July 24 as his replacement. He’s not missed a race since.

Gibbs will be making his 13th career Cup start in Sunday’s South Point 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN) at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We’re expecting an update by Kurt Busch himself in a press conference scheduled for Saturday morning. I don’t get the vibe that Busch will be back this season which would give Gibbs 15 likely starts this year alone. Could be 16 if he races at Phoenix. That would be under a different condition depending on if he’s in the Championship 4 in the Xfinity Series. Does he want to worry about a Cup ride that weekend when he’s fighting for a championship?

Similar circumstance for Noah Gragson.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 06: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Pennzoil Ford, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 06, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

He made his 1st official Cup start in February’s Daytona 500 for Beard Motorsports. Gragson was scheduled to run all 4 superspeedway races for them in 2023. He also had a contract to race part-time for Kaulig Racing in the No. 16 Chevrolet too. So far, he’s made 13 combined starts in those 2 rides this year.

However, he was called up to replace Alex Bowman in Talladega when Bowman was sidelined with concussion like symptoms. Bowman skipped the Charlotte ROVAL race last Sunday. Gragson raced in the No. 48 Chevrolet then too.

On Wednesday, Bowman announced that he’ll miss the next 3 races. Gragson will drive for him. That’s 18 starts this season and could be 19 if he too races Phoenix depending on his Xfinity Series championship eligibility for that race.

Gragson moves up to the Petty GMS No. 42 Chevrolet for 2023. By all accounts, Gibbs will now replace Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota for JGR in 2023 too. Would either be considered for “rookie” status next season?

It would be hard to call either a “rookie” when Gragson would have raced literally half of a season this year and Gibbs nearly half.

In the past, the requirement was no more than 7 career Cup starts to be considered a rookie at the beginning of a full-time season. These two have more than doubled that. While that rule no longer exists and this is under NASCAR’s discretion, it’s hard to fathom either being considered “rookies” when they’d be far from it.

On the flipside, wouldn’t NASCAR want a rookie battle between these 2 in Cup though? Would they look foolish in allowing them eligibility? My response to that though would be that their integrity has been questioned enough lately, why add another layer?

It’s still an interesting discussion that will need to be had.

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