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NASCAR Cup Indianapolis

Ty Gibbs is "enjoying every second" of his NASCAR career

It hasn’t been hard for Ty Gibbs to find the spotlight in his young NASCAR career but then again, how could he not?

Ty Gibbs, Joe Gibbs Racing, Monster Energy Toyota Supra

For one, Gibbs is the 19-year-old grandson of Joe Gibbs – elected to both the NFL and NASCAR Hall of Fame – and he drives race cars for the family-owned NASCAR operation.

And second, and perhaps most important, Ty is very good at it.

Ty’s racing career stretches maybe seven years and he has won – and many times dominated – in every series in which he’s competed.

He won 10 of 20 races and the ARCA Menards Series championship last year and made 18 starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. While the level of competition in NASCAR was much higher, he promptly went out and won in his series debut. He added three more wins and a pair of runner-up finishes by the end of year.

Running fulltime in the Xfinity Series this season, he’s already matched his four wins from a year ago and is a serious contender for the 2022 championship.

Then came last Sunday.

With veteran and fellow Toyota driver Kurt Busch unexpectedly sidelined from the Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway with lingering effects from a concussion, 23XI Racing – co-owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan and JGR Cup driver Denny Hamlin – turned to Gibbs to fill in.

It wasn’t easy. Gibbs’s crew chief in the Xfinity Series, Chris Gayle had to track down the team’s hauler – which had already left Pocono – to grab Gibbs’ helmet, HANS device and any other comfort items he might need for the driver cockpit.

Sunday morning, Gibbs donned a borrowed driver’s suit from Busch and a pair of driving shoes from Hamlin to make his debut.

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“My main concern last week was with Kurt and hoping he was going to be OK, but it was really cool to get a call to see if I wanted to drive on Sunday,” Gibbs told Motorsport.com. “I was definitely a little concerned about doing it because it’s a completely different car.

“I wasn’t used to anything with it. It was going to be totally different.”

But as he has so many times already in his motorsports career, Ty surprised with a trouble-free performance.

He had to start the race from the rear of the field due to the driver change and the repairs made to Busch’s No. 45 and elected to lay back early-on as he tried to get a feel for the Next Gen car.

Gibbs remained on the lead lap throughout the race, successfully navigated green-flag pit stops, avoided any on-track incidents and flirted with a top-15 finish before finally settling in at 16th.

“We had great plan. It was basically to sit and ride for the first and second stage so I could kind of get a good feel for it and understand where I needed to be,” he said. “In the final stage they kind of let me go and I ran it up toward the front at the end.”

Ty Gibbs, 23XI Racing, McDonald's Toyota Camry

Ty Gibbs, 23XI Racing, McDonald's Toyota Camry

Photo by: Jasen Vinlove / NKP / Motorsport Images

Gibbs said he was filled with many emotions last Sunday but after the race he was mostly “just happy.”

“It was cool to race with all the Cup guys. I’ve really never raced with them before except a handful that sometimes run in Xfinity,” he said. “At one point, I was racing Brad Keselowski for like six laps straight. That was cool and definitely a great learning experience.”

Gayle said he and others with JGR and 23XI Racing tried not to saddle Gibbs with big expectations going into the race.

“This wasn’t one he was prepared for,” he said. “There was no simulator work, there were no laps in practice. In my opinion, if he ran all the laps, got a taste of what those cars felt like – that would be successful day.

“The only way it was going to be a bad day would be if he tried too hard, too early and made a mistake just from being unfamiliar with the car. That didn’t happen. He spent the first half of race figuring out how to race the car.

“I really don’t see how it could have gone any better.”

Here we go again

Just as it appeared Gibbs would return his focus to his Xfinity Series season this week, he was asked on Wednesday to again fill in for Busch in this Sunday’s race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.

Busch has yet to be medically cleared to race by NASCAR.

This time, however, Gibbs will not go in blind. He will compete in the car all weekend – practice and qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday.

And the track may be more amenable to him as well as Gibbs has proven to be a prolific road course racer in his brief career with wins at the Daytona Road Course, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and Road America. Gibbs also got time in the simulator on Wednesday.

“Getting to practice and qualify this time will definitely help me out, take a little stress out of my weekend,” Gibbs said. “It’s certainly better than showing up on race day without having even sat in the car.”

Gayle believes this weekend’s situation provides Gibbs with a much better opportunity to test his competitiveness in the Cup Series.

“Without a doubt, road course prowess has been a strength for Ty in the Xfinity Series. That would ramp up your expectations a lot,” he said. “He’s done pit stop practice with the team this week, so he’s got that figured out more. And he has a race at the Indy Road Course under his belt in the Xfinity car last year.

“I think he should run really well. Now, the caveat with that if I’m being totally honest, is Toyota/JGR/23XI Racing hasn’t really run well at road courses this year. That’s the unknown.

“But he should be as talented as anybody on the grid. He knows that. He may not have a lot of experience but most of these guys have little experience in these Next Gen cars on road courses. He should probably set his goals in line with where his Toyota teammates are at.”

What lies ahead

No matter what Gibbs does or doesn’t accomplish on the track the remainder of this season or even his career, he will always have detractors.

He is very familiar with criticism that has come his way at time from those who think the only reason he has the chance to race is because of family connections. Or perhaps they don’t like how he races on the track or has dealt with confrontations with other drivers off the track.

Regardless, Gibbs is determined to blaze his own path and appreciates that his father, Coy, and grandfather allow him the freedom to pursue the career he has chosen.

“Of course, if I’m racing, they want me to work as hard as I can on that,” Ty said. “It’s not pressure, but they remind me I have to work hard and put in the effort to be the best you can.”

Gayle said it’s easy for people to forget that Gibbs could have chosen a career out of the limelight, even an office job if he wanted to escape the criticism.

“Coy has raised him in a tough manner, in which you learn you don’t get anything for free, and I think that’s the difference,” Gayle said. “It’s a choice on his part to do this.

“He knows it isn’t going to be easy. He knows it’s going to come with criticism and yet he still loves it and wants to do it enough in spite of all that. I think that says a lot in itself.”

For Gibbs, whether the path ahead is difficult or easy, his goals remain relatively straightforward: compete to win.

“I don’t let the pressure get to me too much. I just kind of go out there and do my thing as best as I can. If I can’t win with the car I got, I finish the best that I can,” he said.

“I definitely want to win an Xfinity championship and a Cup championship. I would love to race other stuff in my life in the future, other forms of motorsports. I just like driving cars and competing.

“I’m just enjoying every second of this.”

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