NASCAR Cup Series
(VIDEO) JTG Daugherty: The Daytona 500 Dream
Apr 24, 2023
In the most important, heart-pounding final laps of Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Ty Gibbs was up on the wheel, his No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota leading a long drafting line of veterans while surrounded on either side by other long drafting lines of veterans.
It was intense – a high-speed education at its most advanced levels. And were it not for a necessary fuel stop in overtime laps, the NASCAR Cup Series rookie absolutely looked to play a major part in the outcome. He was racing as a legitimate threat to hoist his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series trophy.
While it was not his fate to celebrate on Sunday - he ultimately finished 31st after running out of fuel in the extra laps - Gibbs and his team can at the very least feel extremely satisfied with his effort on the day, and with his effort on the season.
The 20-year-old earned top-10 finishes in four of the season’s opening eight races – three consecutive ninth-place efforts at Atlanta, Austin and Richmond – a 1.5-miler, a road course and a short track. The next week, Gibbs was 10th in the Bristol, Tenn. dirt race. Four different venues, four impressive runs.
“I feel like it’s a really good start to the season,” his veteran crew chief Chris Gayle told Racing America. “If you pencil in what we thought we should or shouldn’t do for the year, I would have told you we’d be somewhere in seven to nine Top-10s total - just looking a lot of rookies in the past.
“We’ve already got four of those (top-10s) knocked out. I feel like we’re on good pace as long as we can keep that consistency going. I think that’s the important thing for me. If you can keep the consistency going and then everyone’s mindset is that we’re consistently running top-10 that builds confidence.
“There’s one of two ways to build confidence on the Cup side. Win right away or become consistent enough to know a win is coming.”
Gibbs is currently ranked 20th in the championship standings, easily atop the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings – 91 points ahead of fellow rookie and longtime competitor Noah Gragson, who is 32nd in the standings. Gibbs is even higher in the standings than several high-profile veterans from Bubba Wallace to Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon.
Last year some may have been unfairly dismissive of Gibbs’ massive accomplishments in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, insisting that he simply had the opportunity to drive the fastest car for a team that his grandfather – NASCAR Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs – owned. But Gibbs drove to seven race wins and five pole positions, finished in the top 10 an impressive 23 of 33 races and claimed the season championship in what was one of the most highly competitive Xfinity Series seasons in recent memory.
Competing in his rookie NASCAR Cup Series season this year, there are no “gimmes” either real or otherwise and there is no legitimate argument that Gibbs' success is a result of anything other than his talent, his team and his honest desire to excel in stock car racing’s big leagues. If terms such as “brash” or “aggressive” described his early style breaking into NASCAR’s national series, then it is only fair to concede he has been nothing but sportsmanlike and patient; eager and effective so far in his rookie year.
Gibbs has put his head down, kept a relatively low profile and been an eager student of the NASCAR big leagues. And the result has been a new level of respect for the young driver from fans and fellow competitors.
“He’s been mostly under the radar,” Gibbs veteran crew chief Chris Gayle said, acknowledging the challenges facing his driver.
“Nobody’s talking about him, nobody’s picking Ty Gibbs to win the next race but nobody’s saying anything bad. Everyone’s saying, ‘Look at this, he’s being more consistent.’ I think for a rookie it’s kind of nice to fly under the radar and learn, and not necessarily having all that pressure – you have some pressure no matter what – but without having all the attention all the time.”
“So if there’s anything we have talked about it, it’s that it’s really tough on the Cup side,” Gayle continued. “It’s really important to get these good finishes consistently. That’s what everybody is looking at.
“I feel like he has a pretty tough mindset, doesn’t necessarily care if everyone approves of him or doesn’t approve of him,” Gayle added. “He’s going to be who he is and just try to do what he thinks is right, which is what I think you have to do. You have to mentally tough in this situation.”
I think for a rookie it’s kind of nice to fly under the radar and learn, and not necessarily having all that pressure – you have some pressure no matter what – but without having all the attention all the time.
Gibbs is aware of the situation too and smiled when asked what his biggest takeaway has been in 2023.
“Don’t be a rookie while you’re a rookie, I guess that’s the best way to say it,” Gibbs said, adding, “No speeding, don’t get pass-through penalties.
“I can tell you that being a small fish in a big pond, I really enjoy that. It’s been fun. I’m doing my work.”
-Photo credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images