NASCAR Cup Series
Denny Hamlin Kicks Off 2024 Cup Season with Busch Light Clash Victory
Feb 4, 2024
At 21 years and four months old, Ty Gibbs just about became the youngest-ever winner in the history of the Busch Light Clash. Alas, things weren't meant to be for the grandson of NASCAR Cup Series team owner Joe Gibbs.
Leading a race-high 84 laps, Gibbs was the class of the field in his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry XSE on Saturday, and the only driver able to stretch any substantial advantage over the pack, which at one point grew to more than three seconds.
However, things quickly began to unwind when a series of late-race restarts led to the second-year NASCAR Cup Series driver losing the lead to veteran teammate Denny Hamlin with less than 10 green-flag laps remaining.
Pushing the limits to get back to the rear bumper of Hamlin, Gibbs spun his tires at the exit of the second corner and slipped, leading to the loss of the runner-up spot to Kyle Busch.
Then, the Charlotte, North Carolina native quickly lost third, and then fourth, and fifth.
After backsliding to outside the top five, the dam officially broke, with Gibbs getting spun around after contact from Kyle Larson -- who later claimed contact from Bubba Wallace forced him into the rear of the No. 54.
Gibbs would have the facilities to finish the event, albeit one lap down in 18th, which despite the poor finish, was still one of the best runs of his young NASCAR Cup Series career.
"It was just unfortunate," Gibbs said post-race. "I just have to get better at restarts. My team brought me a great Monster Energy Camry as we saw. It was a good showing. He [Hamlin] just did a good job there getting back in contention for the race. I just overdrive the corner and got wrecked after that."
The 21-year-old driver heads into a new season with a chip on his shoulder, after being the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver to not make the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in 2023, despite being in the fight until the regular-season finale, an impressive accomplishment nonetheless for a rookie driver.
In practice on Saturday, Gibbs was part of a four-car quartet for Joe Gibbs Racing that showed incredible strength, with teammates Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin, and Martin Truex, Jr. all ranking inside the top six on the speed charts.
Although Bell, shockingly, didn't end up qualifying for the main event, the speed shown by the organization with the brand-new Toyota Camry XSE body was encouraging, leaving Gibbs to have a very focus-forward attitude about his result on Saturday.
“Everyone did a great job. We started where we left off last year. It was a good showing for us. Our guys did a good job. Experience helps, and we will just keep going," added Gibbs.
Gibbs, crew chief Chris Gayle, and the entire No. 54 Toyota Camry XSE team will continue forward to Daytona International Speedway, the first points-paying event of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series campaign.
Though, after his showing in Saturday's Busch Light Clash, there's no reason that Gibbs won't be able to secure NASCAR Cup Series victory number one in 2024, and who knows, he might even get number two, as well.
-- Image: Nigel Kinrade, LAT, Courtesy of Toyota Racing