Joe Gibbs heads to Phoenix with a lot on his mind between his grandson, Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell

Joe Gibbs is back with a driver in the Championship 4 for the ninth straight year. That has him giddy. This time it’s Christopher Bell making his first appearance in the final round. However, Gibbs also has a lot on his mind heading to Phoenix Raceway this weekend as well.

The elephant in the room is this is Kyle Busch’s 528th and final NASCAR Cup Series start with Joe Gibbs Racing. Both he as well as long-time sponsor Mars will conclude their contracts with JGR on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN). That could be an emotional time for all parties.

56 of Busch’s 60 career Cup wins came with Joe Gibbs signing his paychecks. He’s won two championships and made the final round five times.

Now, it’s all coming to an abrupt end.

“Yeah, I think it’s going to be the end of something that was really special and great really,” Gibbs said on Tuesday. “When you think about 15 years and everything that the race team and Kyle has been able to do, it’s just been — it’s been a fantastic time for us.

“When you think about it, I think it’s 56 or 57 wins, and over a 15-year period, and we’ve been together — we’ve been together with Mars.

“To end all that, obviously there’s a lot of emotion, and you wish that it could have kept going. We tried in every way for over a year to try and get things to work out. They just didn’t.”

Busch never wanted to leave and never expected to be put in this situation that he was in. It was stressful and cost him performance. He admitted to making a ton of concessions to make it work. The one thing missing was that $20-million sponsorship package that Gibbs was having a hard time finding. It forced Busch to look elsewhere.

In the meantime, Gibbs’ grandson was filling in nicely for 23XI Racing for Busch’s injured brother, Kurt Busch. Was this a better, cheaper option?

When it came to fruition for Busch to leave JGR at the end of the season and join RCR, it ended months of speculation and uncertainty. However, the results never truly came and the final stretch has honestly made things end more sour than it could have been.

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA – JULY 24: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&Ms Toyota, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 24, 2022 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

“I think one of the things that none of us want this played out at the end of the year in the playoffs for him,” Gibbs continued. “We didn’t lose a motor last year, and for us to lose two and have the situations that we’ve had for him, it was just really hard for us to deal with that. It was so disappointing.

“I think Kyle over this last year has really — we’ve had great times, we’ve had a great 15 years. Over this last year it’s really been hard on both sides. We tried extremely hard to get everything put together so we could stay together, and we just weren’t able to get that done, and so that was a lot of work, stress, trying to go through that.

“This has really been a tough year, I think for him and us. So we hate that.

“I think he’s found a good home, and I think he and Richard will get along great. I think he’s going to — I don’t want to race against him because he’s going over there to a good car, and I know how talented he is. And so really and truly, we experienced something really special, 15 years, and I wish him and Sam the absolute best as we go forward.”

In turn, all signs are pointing to Gibbs’ grandson, Ty Gibbs, to replace Busch in the No. 18 Toyota on the Cup level next season. Gibbs says that they won’t officially name Busch’s replacement until the season is over as they want to concentrate on winning a championship, but they’ll be ready to put things in place soon after. All indications are it’s Ty Gibbs in that ride.

However, after what Gibbs did to teammate Brandon Jones at the end of Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race in Martinsville, some are wondering if Gibbs is mature enough to handle that seat.

“Yeah, I think what’s happened there is we’re working through all of that,” Joe Gibbs said of Ty Gibbs’ actions. “There’s a lot to it. We’re trying to — as a family and as a race team family, we’re trying to work through every single part of that. We’re still going through it, because it isn’t easy, everything that happened.

“We want to go about this the right way, and we are walking — I am, and our family is — with Ty as he walks through all of this.

“When tough things happen, and certainly nobody wanted that to happen, I said, now there’s consequences, and so we’re trying to walk through those with him. I was also there, and so I think a lot about that, too. There’s things that I could have done a better job of.

“So I think together, Ty is walking through it, I’m walking through it, and we’re still in that process.

“I think being aware of the circumstances is one thing. But there’s other things there, too. It was something that was heat of the battle. Everything is taking place. There was so much going on.

“I feel like I could have handled it better.

“I think that’s it. All of us certainly wish that it had never happened. We think the world of Brandon and his dad, J.R., so we’re just kind of committed to at this point go through all of this and try and do it in the right way. That’s what I think we’re all focused on.”

This is all kind of overshadowing the fact that Gibbs is going for an Xfinity Series title on Saturday while Bell is on the Cup side on Sunday. In the case of Bell, him being here in something that Gibbs says is a byproduct of these playoffs.

 “I would say that everybody in racing would say the odds are really against you to be able to do that,” Gibbs said. “In our first segment, the first three races, I think he had the most points, so we felt really good going to the next segment, and there we lost tires twice in Dallas and just put ourselves at the bottom.

“So you’re looking at that, anytime anybody gets in that situation, a must-win, and you’ve got all the guys competing the way they’re competing at the end of the year and everybody is fighting for a chance to advance to the next round, you always would have to say to yourself, any fan or all of us in racing would say, that’s going to be really, really hard.

“When we were able to win at the Roval, which for us if you had picked a racetrack that would have been hard for us to have a victory like that, it would have been the Roval.

“Then we come back, and then we have the wreck situation that put us to the bottom again. To think that you could come back twice from being in that situation, I don’t think anybody thought that would be possible.

“But what I saw in that was Christopher and the way he embraced it and went after it, the way Adam and our entire team over there, our pit crew, everybody that worked on that car, and when you think about it, that car has had — our sponsors are DeWalt, Rheem, Yahoo!, Sirius, Toyota. And when you see our sponsors there, I think everybody hung tough.

“Christopher, for him to be able to win on Sunday was just a fantastic effort by everybody. We had great pit stops at the end, got him up there where he had a chance with that, making a great call to get tires, and then it was a matter of him doing the job and fighting through five other cars, which he was able to do.”

Continuing Joe Gibbs Racing’s excellence

Winning and excellence are ingrained in the foundation of the Joe Gibbs Racing organization and since joining the NASCAR Cup Series in 1992 the organization has collected five series championships among three drivers – Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002, 2005) and Kyle Busch (2015, 2019).

Overall, Joe Gibbs Racing has 10 NASCAR national series owner championships (five in Cup and five in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2016).

Joe Gibbs Racing has won five of the last 22 NASCAR Cup Series championships (2000-2021), putting the team’s title-winning percentage during that span at 22.7%. The organization also holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era (1972-Present) record for the most wins in a single season with 19 victories in 2019.

Heading into Phoenix this weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing has earned six NASCAR Cup Series wins in 2022. The 2022 season is the organization’s 30th straight season with at least one victory in the NASCAR Cup Series totaling 200 career wins since 1992.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s recent dominance doesn’t end there, they also set a NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era record for the most finishes (32) inside the top two in 2019; a feat Hendrick Motorsports tied in 2021. This season the JGR foursome of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. scored six wins, 34 top-five and 65 top-10 finishes.

Since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs elimination-style format in 2014, Joe Gibbs Racing has placed at least one driver in the Championship 4 Round each season (Christopher Bell: 2022, Denny Hamlin: 2014, ’19, ’20, ’21; Kyle Busch: 2015-2019; Martin Truex Jr.: 2019, 2021; Carl Edwards: 2016).

Impressively, Joe Gibbs Racing has placed more than one driver in the Championship 4 Round in three of the nine Playoffs with the elimination-format (2016, 2019 and 2021) and set the series record for the most drivers to earn a spot in the Championship 4 Round by an organization in a single season when Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin all made the Championship 4 in 2019.

Joe Gibbs Racing has also won at least one Playoff race in 15 of the 19 Playoff seasons (since 2004) for a combined 40 postseason wins, second-most all-time.

Christopher Bell made his fulltime NASCAR Cup Series debut with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2020 and he immediately got up to speed. In his rookie season he made all 36 starts posting two top fives and seven top 10s finishing the season 20th in points. In just his second season, he grabbed his first career Cup win at the Daytona Road Course and earned his first appearance in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs (2021). Bell would finish the 2021 season in 12th after being eliminated in the Round of 12 from the postseason. This season has been a breakout year for the Oklahoman, in 36 starts he has put up career highs in wins (three), top fives (12) and top 10s (19); including becoming the first driver to face elimination twice in a postseason run and win both times to advance to the next round. Now the 27-year-old is looking to bring the Joe Gibbs Racing organization its sixth NASCAR Cup Series championship and his first; joining Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002 and 2005) and Kyle Busch (2015 and 2019).

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