Ty Gibbs looking to finish strong in Xfinity with eyes on full-time Cup ride
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
Ty Gibbs turned 20 years old earlier this month. He already has nine career Xfinity wins and 13 Cup starts, and he has had his fair share of controversies and heard probably more than his fair share of boos.
So while some might say 20 years old is too young to start a full-time Cup career, it's difficult to say Gibbs hasn't been through enough drama to know what’s in store.
"It’s definitely been a lot of aging quickly," Gibbs told FOX Sports last week prior to the race at Las Vegas.
"A lot of experiences. ... It’s been fun. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be here. There is going to be a lot of people who are not for me, and that is part of the path I took. I knew that was going to happen before I was going to do this gig. I just mind my business and do the best I can."
Joe Gibbs Racing has not officially announced that the grandson of Joe Gibbs will replace Kyle Busch in JGR’s open seat next year. Joe Gibbs said last week that Busch’s replacement will be announced after the season, but there is no doubt who will go into that open ride.
"I don’t think anybody is going to be surprised," Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson said.
Nor should they be. At least not at this point. Few would've guessed that Gibbs would win four of the 18 Xfinity races he competed in last year. He added five more this year and sits second in the standings as he vies for the Xfinity title.
"I can’t imagine being where he is in life at such a young age and getting thrust in the spotlight ... You quickly have got to figure it out," said AJ Allmendinger, a former Cup driver now battling Gibbs for the Xfinity title.
"You’re going to make mistakes as you go. Ty has had things happen that we’ve all seen that you need to keep learning from. But on the racetrack itself, if you really look at it, he doesn’t make a ton of mistakes."
His quick rise to success has attracted fans and also detractors, who view him as the can-do-no-wrong grandson of the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach and NASCAR Hall of Fame car owner. Ty Gibbs is well aware of that. After being fined for slamming into Dillon on pit road, he acknowledged that his statement of apology would go only so far.
"I can sit here and apologize to everybody, and my words don’t mean anything," he said. "I have to do it by my actions. ... I can’t be doing that stuff."
For the moment, Gibbs is trying to focus on winning an Xfinity title while continuing to substitute for Kurt Busch (concussion) in Cup.
Two weeks ago at the Charlotte road course, he lost to Allmendinger on a late restart. Losing on the track a week after being penalized for the Dillon incident, Gibbs continued to experience his share of mistakes and lessons that aren’t exactly fun.
"There’s definitely been a lot going on, for sure, this year," he said. "I’ve got a lot of attention on me, and making sure that I’m doing everything correctly is very important.
"But at the same time, I shouldn’t be caring what people think because that’s not part of what I’m doing here. I’m here to race. I just do my own thing, and I make mistakes, and I learn from them."
Gibbs views all of it as good preparation for life — racing and otherwise. He obviously can go to Joe Gibbs for advice, as his grandfather should know athletes won’t be universally loved, athletes make mistakes in the spotlight, and fans are passionate.
"It’s part of life," Ty Gibbs said. "It’s just maturing. It doesn’t bother me what people say, especially [what] people that are in the sport say. It’s a lot of attention, a lot of negativity. It doesn’t bother me. I just do my job, and I can only do the best I can."
These days, Gibbs is going to three team driver meetings per week (JGR Cup, JGR Xfinity, 23XI Cup) and doing simulator work for both series. His Xfinity crew chief, Chris Gayle, who likely will move with him to the Cup Series, said he talked to Gibbs about focusing on the Xfinity title.
On the Cup side, Gibbs has an average finish of 23.3; his Xfinity average in his career is 10.0.
"He’s doing a good job of that," Gayle said of Gibbs’ focus on Xfinity. "He’s just got to let himself off the hook with the Cup side, not performing as good as he would want to right away, which is not really fair to him."
The original plan was for Gibbs to run two full seasons of Xfinity, including 2023. With his early success, it might've made it a little easier for JGR to stomach losing Kyle Busch to Richard Childress Racing.
"What truly is remarkable about Ty is you look at the number of reps that he has as a driver relative to his peers, and it’s far fewer," Wilson said. "On paper, I don’t think anybody expected ... him to progress as quickly as he has.
"What we have to remember is, particularly if you contemplate him continuing to drive at the Cup level, he’s still got a lot to learn. He just turned 20. He’s going to make mistakes."
Wilson is particularly pleased with Gibbs’ improvements off the track.
"Early in the season, he was not just getting into scraps, but once he got out of the car, he was handling that aggressively," Wilson said.
"He’s done a much better job handling the emotion once he gets out of the car. ... But he’s still seeing things that are new to him, and it’s going to be a very dynamic time for him."
On the track, what’s new is competing for a NASCAR national series championship and all that the playoffs entail. Winning the Xfinity championship won’t determine Gibbs' next step; it's not like he needs to win the title to secure a Cup ride. But he said he is putting pressure on himself to win it.
"I definitely want to win everything I can," he said. "No matter where the future takes me ... I just do the best I can day to day."
In at least one of his competitor’s eyes, Gibbs is improving every day.
"He keeps getting better, and that’s all you can ask when you’re at that age," Allmendinger said. "He’s already so good. The sky is the limit for him.
"I love racing against him because it pushes me to my limits, and I have to be at my best and maybe even go to levels I don’t think I have sometimes to even just try to run with him. He’ll be around for a long time, no doubt."
What to watch for
The drivers to watch at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be William Byron, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin. None of them had the speed and/or the handling they wanted last weekend at Las Vegas. Will they have it this weekend at another 1.5-mile track?
Homestead is a somewhat different track, with progressive banking (steeper near the outer wall to allow for more speed), but it's similar enough that those drivers should have concerns.
They all tested there a few weeks ago, so they should have an idea what they need. But that could be good or bad. Did anyone learn something that will allow them to stand out?
Thinking out loud
Homestead marks the fifth scheduled trucks-Xfinity doubleheader of the season, as both series will run Saturday at the track. NASCAR has done doubleheaders at Atlanta, Circuit of the Americas, Pocono and Talladega.
Is that a good thing?
It makes for a big commitment for the fan at home to sit in front of the television all afternoon. It makes for a long day for NASCAR officials and others working the event.
And it seems that sometimes the Xfinity event overshadows the truck race or vice versa, depending on what happens. It almost seems as if neither series gets its just focus, as there is a scramble to get both races completed.
But these doubleheaders are great for fans who are coming to the track, as they get to see two races in one day. Plus, these doubleheaders are being done in some markets where a Friday night truck race would be a difficult draw for fans to get to the track. So while it makes for a hectic day, there likely is reason for NASCAR to continue to do them.
They said it
"Really a dangerous act that we thought that was intentional and put other competitors at risk ... we thought that definitely crossed the line." — NASCAR COO Steve O’Donnell on Bubba Wallace's suspension
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.