There is no question that Ty Gibbs is a talented race car driver. A total of 11 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins in only 51 starts and a the 2022 championship on that tour serve as a testament to his skill. The 20-year-old has accomplished much in a short period of time. And now the grandson of legendary football coach and team owner Joe Gibbs will soon be looking to add to those achievements at a higher level.
The younger Gibbs has also won 18 ARCA Menards Series races and was the 2021 champion on that circuit.
After filling in for 15 NASCAR Cup Series races after Kurt Busch was injured and had to give up his seat in the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota, Gibbs is now set to take the reins of the ride vacated when Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing parted ways at the end of the 2022 season.
Even with his past record of success, though, the question still has to be asked if this driver is ready to step up to the sport’s top level on a full-time basis. Obviously, being related to one of the most successful team owners in all of motorsports has not hurt Gibbs’ racing career. Still, his race wins and championships weren’t earned simply because of his grandfather. There has to have been some talent involved and there clearly is.
Gibbs will drive will a car carrying the same number he has had leading up to his next opportunity, which is the same as his Xfinity Series ride. And more than his car number, Gibbs will be taking his crew chief up to the Cup level with him.
“I’m very excited,” Gibbs told the assembled media prior to the NASCAR Awards Banquet. “It will be awesome to be in the No. 54 Toyota Camry and see what happens. I’m excited to take Chris Gayle with me and we’ll work hard from there. It’s definitely really cool. He’s done a great job this year. I’m thankful to work with him and my engineer also. I’m thankful to have a great situation put together.”
But with Gibbs, there is more to the story than just his talent. Over the past couple of seasons, there have been some issues to bring his level of maturity into question. In particular, he has had some noteworthy run-ins with his own teammates.
On the final lap of the spring race at Richmond Raceway, Gibbs roughed up John Hunter Nemechek, who was driving the No. 18 Toyota for JGR that week, and then drove on to the victory. Although he went on to finish second, Nemechek was not overly thrilled with the move.
Another similar incident came about late in the season when Gibbs slammed into the back of the No. 19 JGR Toyota driven by Brandon Jones. In that case, however, Jones was completely turned around and hit the outside wall doing significant damage relegating him to a 23rd place result.
After the boos had rained down from the grandstand at Martinsville, Gibbs later stated that Jesus was also hated by many causing the perception that he was making some sort of comparison to himself and Chris. Such a comment is not necessarily one that will win over very many fans.
One thing that will no doubt work in Gibbs’ favor in the upcoming season is the fact that he was able to make 15 starts at the Cup Series level last year. When Kurt Busch was injured during qualifying at Pocono, Gibbs was immediately called into action by 23XI.
“It was definitely a huge benefit for sure,” Gibbs explained. “I’m thankful to be put in that opportunity. Thank you to Denny and Michael for that opportunity. It was really cool. It was definitely a little nerve racking at Pocono to show up with no practice. Hopefully I can make the best of this opportunity next year.”
Even while in the Cup car, there were signs that this driver’s maturity level might not be where it needs to be. During the race at Texas Motor Speedway, Gibbs door slammed the car of Ty Dillon as the two drivers were making their way down pit road. That contact put a nearby pit crew in jeopardy.
The sanctioning body was not pleased and handed down a $75,000 fine for Gibbs as a result.
But perhaps signs of greater maturity are beginning to emerge. Gibbs points out that he has begun the serious work of preparing for his new role as a Cup driver.
“I think studying is the biggest thing since we can’t go out and test anymore,” Gibbs said of his preparation for 2023. “I’ve been doing a lot of SIM and practicing. I’m really excited for next year to do the best I can. I guess it just comes down to experience. I need more time and studying can speed that process up. At the same time, seat time in the real car, not the simulator that’s going to make the difference.”
Still, adapting to his new situation and the Next Gen car will come with some potential pitfalls but the time spent in the 23XI ride should prove to be beneficial.
“Just time in the race car figuring everything out, how the car feels, how the engine feels, how different you drive the car,” Gibbs explained. “I learned a lot. I think seat time is seat time but it’s definitely a hard transition, It’s a light switch of a transition to go from one car to the other so that was a little bit hard. To go from skew to no skew and driving it so differently with a different size tire.”
With all that said, the instances that have shown just how good Gibbs is behind the wheel are numerous. For example, few drivers can boast of being able to outduel Kyle Larson in a head-to-head battle as Gibbs did this past season in the Xfinity event at Road America. Still, those other instances have, at times, brought scorn from fans and competitors alike.
Another thing to consider is the question of whether or not Gibbs is being rushed to the top series too quickly. As stated earlier, there is no question that he possesses great skill. However, there is a case somewhat similar to his of a highly regarded young driver who may very well have been brought to the top level by JGR earlier than should have been the case.
Being that Gibbs drives for that same organization, one comparison that might be made is to the early career of Joey Logano. In four full-time seasons with JGR, Logano only managed two wins and a best finish of 16th in the final standings.
The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion joined that organization in 2009 at the age of 19. The driver once known as ‘Sliced Bread’ came to the Cup level with a great deal of early success behind him and very high expectations in front of him in the same way Gibbs is. Even though Logano had success at JGR, the partnership eventually dissolved at the end of the 2012 season clearing the way for him to join Team Penske.
Gibbs will have had a bit more seat time in a Cup car than Logano had at the beginning. Also, consider that everyone is in the learning process with the new car so veterans and rookies are essentially in the same place in terms of understanding what makes the machine work.
“It was definitely a huge benefit for sure,” Gibbs declared of his time in the Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan owned car. “I’m thankful to be put in that opportunity. Thank you to Denny and Michael for that opportunity. It was really cool. It was definitely a little nerve racking at Pocono to show with no practice. Hopefully I can make the best of this opportunity next year.”
Although he did get that seat time in a Cup car, Gibbs’ success at the top level was far from what it has been in his Xfinity and ARCA efforts. He only managed one top-10 finish in the No. 45 car.
Ultimately, whatever success or failure Gibbs may have in 2023 and beyond will boil down to his maturity and how well he is able to adapt from being a big fish in a little pond to a smaller fish in a bigger pond. If he can’t make that transition, the ride may be a bumpy one. Logano eventually got himself into the right opportunity to bring about success. Only time will tell if Gibbs will be able make the most of the opportunity he has been given.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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