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Talented Gibbs Hurries to Upper Echelons of NASCAR

Friday, July 29, 2022 Paul Kelly


Like most 19-year-olds, Ty Gibbs is in a hurry. But instead of showing little patience while waiting to order food at a drive-thru or scrolling for the latest meme video on TikTok, Gibbs’ speed in a 700-horsepower race car is propelling him up the ladder of stock car racing at a rapid pace.

Like most 19-year-olds, Ty Gibbs is in a hurry.

But instead of showing little patience while waiting to order food at a drive-thru or scrolling for the latest meme video on TikTok, Gibbs’ speed in a 700-horsepower race car is propelling him up the ladder of stock car racing at a rapid pace.

Gibbs, grandson of legendary NFL coach and race team owner Joe Gibbs, is one of the most promising talents in NASCAR in years. He leads the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota – and has recorded a series-leading four victories – entering the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard on Saturday on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in just his first full season in the final step before the NASCAR Cup Series.

“I feel like getting used to the different level of Xfinity has come a little bit faster than I thought, which is a good thing,” Gibbs said. “Just more racing and more time in the race car will help.”

Gibbs’ meteoric career also entered a new, unexpected phase last weekend when hemade his Cup Series debut at Pocono Raceway as a replacement for the injured Kurt Busch, placing an impressive 16th despite never driving one of the machines before that race. Gibbs also will stand in for Busch on Sunday in the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard on the IMS road course.

While Gibbs has made his quick climb look easy with his natural talent in the car, he indicated his biggest adjustment may come when he’s not strapped into the cockpit. The combination of his famous last name and his frequent trips to victory lane have made him a magnet for rivals – some perhaps jealous – and excited NASCAR fans ready for the next big thing.

“I want to be a champion,” Gibbs said. “I’ve got to learn how to act in a champion’s way. I feel like I’ve learned a lot.

“I’m a very mature person, but I’m just making sure I’m making the right decisions always. I’ve got a lot of eyes on me. I just feel like there’s a lot more attention on me these days. I’ve never been used to that.

Gibbs has attracted attention since he began racing BMX bicycles at age 6. He won numerous state and regional championships and switched to karting at age 11, with multiple wins in World Karting Association and Super Karts USA events.

Considering his grandfather owns one of NASCAR’s most successful teams, a transition to late model stock cars in 2017 seemed inevitable. He won Rookie of the Year at Hickory Motor Speedway that year and won the prestigious Ice Breaker late model race at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Gibbs made his ARCA debut in late 2019, winning an ARCA West race at Phoenix International Raceway. That success set the table for a breakout 2020 season in which Gibbs firmly planted himself on the radar of stock car racing’s future.

North Carolina native Gibbs helped Joe Gibbs Racing win the ARCA Menards Series owners’ championship with six victories. He also added five poles and 14 top-10 finishes.

Up next was a jump to a part-time Xfinity Series schedule in 2021. And like usual, Gibbs wasted no time making a sudden impact, winning his series debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course at age 18. Only five other drivers have won their Xfinity debuts – Dale Earnhardt, Joe Ruttman, Ricky Rudd, Terry Labonte and Kurt Busch. Elite company.

Gibbs ended the 2021 Xfinity season 13th in points despite competing in only 18 of 33 races. He earned four wins and a pole position and was named Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year.

“He doesn’t overthink it,” said Gibbs’ crew chief, Chris Gayle. “He’s going fast all the time. A lot of these guys come from years ago racing where I’ve got to ride here, I’ve got to go hard here. He’s doing a really good job of just going and running to the limit of the tire every lap.

But there’s more to Gibbs’ ability than pure speed. He also has shown uncanny ability to navigate traffic. That skill was honed unexpectedly during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when NASCAR races were condensed into one-day events without practice or qualifying. Gibbs often was starting mid-pack after the starting lineup was set by owner points.

“You have a lot of guys who can run fast laps and then catch traffic and get caught, can’t get clear of somebody, fight with a guy for five or six laps and ultimately someone else passes him from behind because they couldn’t make the pass on the leader or whatever,” Gayle said. “He’s doing a great job on that. That’s one of those things you can get better at with more experience doing it, but in my opinion, the really good ones either have it or they don’t, and they get a little bit better at it. But they had it from the beginning.

“We had no qualifying, so we had to start midpack a lot. That’s a really good judge for him or a way for him to set his pace was to follow these guys, know where he was better than them and just pass them. By the time he got to the lead, he already knew where he was better, and he knew what to do to keep exploiting that.”

Gibbs also has shown plenty of speed and skill on road courses. Besides his Xfinity Series debut victory on the Daytona road course, he also won an Xfinity Series pole this season at the Circuit of the Americas and also held off reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Larson to win the Xfinity Series race earlier this summer at Road America.

That may surprise some considering he cut his stock car teeth on rough-and-tumble asphalt and dirt ovals in Southeastern late model races, but his extensive karting background has paid dividends during his early NASCAR career.

Karting remains a key part of Gibbs’ preparation. He keeps a kart at his home track, GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, North Carolina, and pounds out lap after lap of left and right turns in all kinds of weather and all hours of the day.

That dedication to the craft has created an uncommon trait in a teenager – especially one in a hurry.

“Good drivers on road courses are really disciplined, so I’m just making sure I’m disciplined and being very consistent in my braking markers, my braking zones and how my corner entries are,” Gibbs said. There are a lot of other things that lead up to it, but the overall deal is working hard at it and studying it as much as you can.

That discipline and commitment to improvement serve two purposes for Gibbs. One, it helps him improve quickly as a driver. Two, it should dispel any notion among fans and rivals that Gibbs is a rising star simply because of the opportunities and fast race cars provided to him by the family team. There are no silver spoons here.

I’m going to have a target on my back for my whole career,” Gibbs said. But that’s the path I chose, and it came down to me choosing that path.

Said Gayle, a 20-year veteran of Joe Gibbs Racing who has worked with drivers such as Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones and Christopher Bell: “He’s got to be right there with anyone I’ve worked with. It’s just a matter now of the progression the next few years and where that goes.