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Toby's Take: First Win Coming for Ty Gibbs; Noah Gragson, and Carson Hocevar Impress Again

Following Phoenix, it's clear that Ty Gibbs is zeroing in on his first career NASCAR Cup Series win. Noah Gragson, and Carson Hocevar have also impressed through the opening four races of the season.


hero image for Toby's Take: First Win Coming for Ty Gibbs; Noah Gragson, and Carson Hocevar Impress Again

Another week, another excellent performance for Ty Gibbs. It's starting to become the expectation, rather than an exception for the driver in his Sophomore season in the NASCAR Cup Series. This week, at Phoenix Raceway the 21-year-old driver of the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry XSE scored a career-best finish of third.

A win is coming, and quickly for Gibbs. And once he does win, it'll potentially open the floodgates.

Gibbs has proven at every level that he has raced at, that once it clicks, he becomes nearly unstoppable.

He won 18 times in just 47 starts in ARCA Menards Series competition on his path to a championship in 2021. He did the same thing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series ranks as he has 12 wins in only 59 starts, and he scored the championship in that series in 2022.

Through only four races this season, Gibbs is already halfway to his total of top five finishes from his rookie NASCAR Cup Series season. He's getting it, and he's learning how to finish races. After having a great race early, Gibbs fell behind in the middle portion of the event, and had to battle his way back in the final Stage of the race to score the podium finish.

“It was a good day for our Monster Energy Toyota Camry. We just need a little bit more," Gibbs explained. "We got in a hole there a little bit on pit road and got back through it. It was a good day and a really good recovery.”

Nothing signals perhaps how far Gibbs has come since his rookie season more than him scoring his career-best finish at Phoenix.

The budding star struggled mightily at the 1-mile oval a season ago, as he finished 28th in the spring, and 21st in the fall. Gibbs credits the new Toyota Camry XSE body for the bulk of the improvement.

“Yeah, I think everybody at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Toyota with this new car, they just did a great job," Gibbs said. "We’re happy with it, but we need to get a little bit better to go out here and hopefully go and win. It’s definitely a positive from the last two Phoenix races for me.”

While the new Camry certainly played a hand, as Toyota was strong overall on Sunday, Gibbs has certainly improved in his own right this year.

Even without a win, Gibbs has emerged as the most consistent competitor through the opening four races of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season. His average finish (8.75) is the best among full-time NASCAR Cup Series competitors this season, and with each passing week, Gibbs has seen an improvement in his finishing position.

Gibbs is tied for the Series lead in top-10 finishes with three through the opening four events of the season, and after a performance at Phoenix, where he led 57 laps, nearly won Stage 1, and came home with his best-ever finish, it is looking more and more like the time is now for Gibbs to breakthrough.

Photo Credit: John K. Harrelson, LAT Images, Courtesy of Toyota Racing

Gragson Continues to Impress with Stewart-Haas Racing

While Gibbs has performed incredibly well this season, he is not the only 25-and-under driver who has surpassed expectations early in the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Noah Gragson, who drives the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang, has put in an incredible effort in his second NASCAR Cup Series season. The Las Vegas native continues to click off solid races, and he narrowly missed out on his third top-10 finish Sunday at Phoenix Raceway as he came home with a 12th-place finish.

Gragson and his crew chief Drew Blickensderfer are hitting on something right now, and in doing so, are producing the results that team co-owner Tony Stewart hoped to see out of the Stewart-Haas Racing team after a subpar 2023 season. Had you told me in the offseason that Gragson would be disappointed with a 12th-place finish in the fourth race of the season, I would have called you crazy.

But here we are.

“I thought that was a lot of fun," Gragson said of his day in Phoenix. "Our SERVPRO guys did a great job. We had really fast pit stops. It is easy to Monday Morning Quarterback it but I have a lot of faith in Drew and the rest of these guys. They have been really good for me in building my confidence. We are a tight group and I have these guys backs.

"Looking back, we probably should have taken two tires because those guys finished up there but we will keep going and keep learning. Every race. Every weekend. It is still early. It is the fourth race. We ran inside the top 10 for most of the day and it is kind of a bummer but it is exciting to be good and to be disappointed with a [12th]-place finish. That is exciting for our team. We want to keep it going.”

If you remove his 36th-place finish, due to being swept up in an accident, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Gragson has a 9.0 average finish this season. And it just feels like the confidence is really starting to build with each passing week.

Had it not been for a 35-point L1-level penalty, which was sustained after illegal roof rail deflectors were discovered on his No. 10 car during pre-race inspection at Atlanta, Gragson would be sitting 15th in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs right now.

Even with the penalty, Gragson sits 26th in the championship standings. If Gragson keeps collecting good finishes, the Atlanta penalty will be nothing more than a distant memory in the near future. As it stands, Gragson and the No. 10 team should be considered a Playoff-capable pairing until evidence suggests otherwise.

Photo Credit: John K. Harrelson, NKP, Courtesy of Ford Performance

Hocevar Continues to Quietly Build Solid Rookie Season

While Carson Hocevar has yet to record his first career top-10 finish in the NASCAR Cup Series, the Rookie of the Year contender is quietly pulling away in the race within the race -- the Rookie of the Year point standings.

Hocevar, 21, started at the bottom of the heap in the ROTY points after a last-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 following a crash on Lap 6, but what he has done since then has been ultra-impressive.

The driver of the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 has strung together three-straight top-20 finishes and not only took over the Rookie point lead last weekend at Las Vegas, but this week at Phoenix, Hocevar recorded his second-consecutive 15th-place effort, and he now holds a commanding lead in the Rookie of the Year race heading into Bristol Motor Speedway.

Hocevar has a 22 point lead over Stewart-Haas Racing's Josh Berry, while Zane Smith and Kaz Grala sit 30 and 33 points back respectively.

Sure, some of Hocevar's lead could be chalked up to bad luck for the other ROTY contenders, but Hocevar is flat-out executing on the biggest stage, and is emerging as the top Rookie contender, at least at this juncture.

While Hocevar has two top-15 finishes, and three top-20s through the opening four races of the year, no other ROTY contender has more than one top-20 finish.

If Hocevar can keep taking what the race gives him, and logging laps and building experience, he's going to be a hard man to overtake in the Rookie of the Year standings as the season rolls on.

Photo Credit: Harold Hinson Photography

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