Gibbs grateful for seat time before full Cup season ahead

Ty Gibbs wasn’t supposed to be here…yet. You can tell the gameplan that Joe Gibbs Racing had for Coach Gibbs’ grandson. Two years in the NASCAR Xfinity Series to fully learn and mature before advancing to NASCAR’s premiere series.

At this point last season, it really wasn’t even up for discussion on whether Gibbs would be back in his No. 54 Toyota again in the Xfinity Series ranks, NASCAR’s version of AAA. But, so much had transpired over the course of the 2022 season to which Gibbs is still in the No. 54 Toyota, but not in the Xfinity Series anymore – he’s in Cup.

Early on in the year, it was announced that Kyle Busch was a free agent at seasons end and was losing his main sponsor. However, no one really put much stock in Busch not being retained by JGR. Then, as the season went along, the reality became more and more dire. He may truly have to leave.

Gibbs was also winning on his own in NXS and proving that maybe he didn’t need a second full-season in NXS competition. Maybe he was ready now.

He had some sponsorship, would command far less money, shared a surname of the owner and was exceling in a brief period in NASCAR’s second highest level.

Then another plot twist with Kurt Busch, Kyle’s brother, being injured following a qualifying crash at the Pocono Raceway in late July. Gibbs was called to replace him.

Without ever being inside of a Cup car before and less than a days notice, Gibbs was back at the track in Pocono and came away with a top 20 result. He was back in the car a week later. Another top 20. Then another week. This time a top 10.

Busch’s injury wasn’t getting any better and Gibbs’ Cup stats weren’t getting any worse. The direction was getting clearer and clearer by the day, Gibbs was ready and Busch was going to be left looking elsewhere.

Kurt Busch never came back, Gibbs raced the rest of the way in Cup. He also raced every NXS race on the way to a championship last November in Phoenix.

Now, Gibbs heads back to Speedweeks in Daytona this week with JGR as a Cup driver. He’s designated as a rookie even though he competed in he competed in 16 races a year ago.

However, he’s grateful for that experience because he feels so much further along now as a result of that seat time.

“Definitely a big jump there for sure and just getting more time in this car that’s so different,” Gibbs said on the difference in the feeling from Pocono last July to now. “And the more times I was in it, I feel like I was learning and getting more used to how it handles and how it is. I think all the time was progression and just keep moving forward.”

Denny Hamlin, driver for JGR and owner for 23XI, said it was a big advantage for Gibbs to get that seat time a year ago too.

“It really was a great advantage for him (Ty Gibbs) to get some seat time before his rookie season,” he said. “Some of these tracks, he’s going to get to see for the second time and Chris Gayle (crew chief) has the notebook from our team that he’s going to be able to lean on and that feedback to make his cars better right from the get-go. So for me, from my standpoint in what I saw from him it was just steady progression of getting better and it doesn’t necessarily have to come with finishes, but with competitiveness. These guys are going to be fast. Something that’s important to me is having teammates that are very good and competitive because that’s more information that my team can use and with the giant jump that Christopher (Bell) took last year, that’s really helped all of our teams be better. Ty (Gibbs) will take time and it will take some patience there, but these guys have some speed and that’s certainly something I’m going to lean on to try to find out how I can be better myself.”

Gibbs won the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity title with seven wins and 23 top-10 finishes. In just 51 career Xfinity starts, he’s won 11 races (21 percent), scored 33 top-10 finishes (64 percent) and led 1,234 laps. He also won the 2021 ARCA Menard Series championship and won 18 of his 47 ARCA starts too.

Some may still wonder if this is all too soon however. That’s a 22% win rate in the Xfinity Series and 38% in ARCA. 

Compare that to other big drivers in the Cup Series right now that was fast tracked to NASCAR’s premiere series and you’ll see that Gibbs’ stats trump all of theirs.

Joey Logano had just 19 NXS starts and 1 Truck start before moving up to replace Tony Stewart in the 20 car with JGR for the 2009 season. Kyle Larson had 33 Xfinity Series starts and only 6 Truck races under his belt before being with Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2014 Cup season. William Byron also had just 1 full year in NXS and 1 full year in Trucks before moving up with Hendrick Motorsports.

Gibbs has 51 starts which is more than any of those three made before they went full time Cup racing. Gibbs has more wins (11) than those 3 had combined (5). He has 25 top 5’s. Byron had 12, Larson 9 and Logano 5. His 1,234 laps led is more than the trio combined to lead too with Logano leading 278 laps, Byron 262 and Larson 102.

So is he ready?

The team clearly thinks so and so does the manufacturer. David Wilson of Toyota sure seems to think so.

“Ty is ready. He’s there,” Wilson said in Phoenix. “Because of his last name, because of the race team that he races for, obviously he is under a microscope, and he is always going to face — he has faced this question of does he deserve to be there, how much is he there because of his family.

“Anyone who really watches the sport and watches what he has done can easily recognize that he’s earned his spot, and he’s ready to go to the next step. There’s nothing more he needs to do. There’s nothing more he’s going to learn at the Xfinity level, given how radically different these cars are to the next generation cars.

“If you want to get really analytical, the one thing that he doesn’t have perhaps are the number of reps that a lot of his peers have, and the reps really help you with race craft at his level.

“But my gosh, he is a talented, talented young man, and he’s going to do some great things in the sport.”

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 05: Ty Gibbs, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 05, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Wilson doubled down later saying that he feels he’s more than ready and capable but he gets the question on is he emotionally ready.

“The question is he emotionally ready perhaps, right? How many kids at 19 or 20 years old are emotionally ready? Probably, if you’re absolutely analytical, critical, you’d say no. These kids are getting married at that age. Are they ready to get married? I’m veering way off topic here.

“But what Ty has going for him is he has a family that loves him dearly. He has a manufacturer that believes in him. I believe that the lessons — I believe that there’s a silver lining from what happened last Saturday night, and those lessons learned, those tough lessons learned will serve him and toughen him and bring some humility that was necessary and needed to allow him to take that next step.”

He also said that the Championship race isn’t a one race cure-all. It’s one race and not something that’s going to change much if he’s honest.

“You know, I don’t think you can — one race isn’t a cure-all. It’s one race.

“Now, tonight was amplified because it was a championship race. Really what I find pretty remarkable is how in the end he had to strap in tonight after one of the toughest weeks of his professional career and do a job and race against the best drivers in the sport, and he was able to compartmentalize and do his job.

“I don’t think he was out there holding the steering wheel worrying about racing the right way. I think he knows how to do that.

“But it was on a national stage. I think it was really important. It was a tremendous opportunity for him to demonstrate what he’s capable of, and as far as when he gets the opportunity to drive a Cup car, it’s a reset. Of course in the background, he’s been driving a Cup car, that 23 Cup car, and he’s got a pretty fast race car for tomorrow.

“But again, tonight was a great look, and we’re really happy for him, really happy with what he did tonight.

“I don’t think the black hat is planted firmly on his head just yet. I believe that through his actions, through his words, through his sincerity that he can recover and be who he wants to be, be who he believes he is.

“But honestly, that’s up to him. We’re going to have to see how that plays out over his career. He’s going to be arguably in the sport another 15, 20 years, we hope.”

Chris Gayle, who served as crew chief during his NASCAR Xfinity Championship season, will move with Gibbs to serve as crew chief in the Cup Series. That’s big news for him because he admitted that when his first stint in Cup ended, he wasn’t pleased.

“Yeah, it’s really rewarding. You guys know a little bit of the story, having to go back to the Xfinity Series that I wasn’t necessarily happy with, but I kind of set some goals if I wanted to be part of the best team in the Xfinity Series,” Gayle said after the championship a couple of weeks ago.

“And I feel like that with the group of guys that we had, we were able to kind of put some — they like to call themselves the misfits, the guys that nobody wanted, and we kind of took them and added a few guys and really made a solid team out of it.

“Personally, from my standpoint, it’s been good to see that, and it’s been good to get these wins, and it’s been good to — we all have a little bit of ego or we wouldn’t be doing this, that’s just the way it is.

“For me personally, it’s been good to feed that ego and know you can set a goal and go do it. This is just a culmination of that and makes me feel really proud for everyone involved, but that part of it for me personally.”

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