The Joe Gibbs Racing team enters the 2019 NASCAR season with heavy hearts as Joe Gibbs’ son, J.D., died on January 11, 2019. The organization cited his long-time battle with a “degenerative neurological disease” as the cause of death, per NASCAR.com. J.D. was 49 years old at the time of his death.
J.D. served as the co-chairman of Joe Gibbs Racing prior to his passing and also spent time as both a driver and crew member over his career. After his death, Denny Hamlin cited J.D. as motivation for the season.
“His car. His number. His signature above my door. I will always be grateful for what His family did for mine and the opportunity he gave me 14 years ago. Now more than ever #doitforJD,” Denny tweeted.
One month later, Denny would win the Daytona 500, and Joe called it one of the biggest moments of his career.
“It’s the most emotional and the biggest win I’ve ever had in my life — in anything,” Joe said, per the USA Today. “It was just an unbelievable night, unbelievable crowd. The whole thing was just a special memory for me, and it’s one I’ll never forget, and it’s the most important night of my occupational life.”
After the race, Hamlin once again cited J.D.’s tragic passing.
“✌🏼 time #Daytona500 Champ. Did it for JD. #DoItForJD #FedEx11,” Hamlin tweeted.
J.D. Gibbs Started Undergoing Treatment in 2015
The team announced in 2015 that J.D. was undergoing treatment to try to find a resolution for his health challenges. ESPN reported J.D. was seeking medical help for “symptoms impacting areas of brain function, including speech and processing issues.”
J.D. also played college football and there was some thought that head injuries during his career caused some of the issues, per ESPN.
In its statement, the team said doctors have determined that the cause was “head injuries likely suffered earlier in life,” but they did not determine one specific injury. A former defensive back and quarterback at the College of William & Mary from 1987 to 1990, Gibbs also had a short career as a race car driver and enjoys other extreme activities.
J.D. Is Survived By His Wife Melissa & 4 Kids
J.D. is survived by his wife, Melissa, and their four sons: Jackson, Miller, Jason and Taylor, per WCNC. Melissa was in attendance at the Daytona 500 and celebrated the win with the team. ESPN’s Ryan McGee detailed the special moment between Melissa and Denny.
He grabbed the woman in blue and they embraced. Then they cried. Then they smiled. The smile, that was the greatest accomplishment. Greater even than the win that caused it.
“Can you believe that just happened?” Hamlin said to Melissa Gibbs.
“Yes,” she replied, nodding. “Yes, I can.”
Melissa Gibbs became a widow five weeks ago. Her husband, J.D. Gibbs, was the perpetually jovial and universally loved president of Joe Gibbs Racing, the son of a Pro Football Hall of Famer who had every excuse in the world to carry the attitude of privilege, but never came close. His death at the age of 49 was unusually cruel, the end of a long, slow mental deterioration. The last time Hamlin and Melissa Gibbs had embraced in Daytona’s Victory Lane was three years earlier, almost to the night, and J.D. was there, but he also wasn’t. Back then, his days were hit or miss. Thankfully, Feb. 21, 2016, was one of the good ones. But it is also the last day that most of his friends in the NASCAR garage remember seeing him. To the public, he just faded away. In private, Melissa lived on the front lines, caring for the boy she’d met in the seventh grade as he became a shadow of himself.
Daytona served as a bright moment in what has been a trying start to 2019 for J.D.’s family and friends.
“Man, we have been through so much during this offseason, and it’s all been just so hard, but look at this,” Denny told ESPN. “Here’s my family, J.D.’s family, our team, which is like a family, and everyone is smiling,” Hamlin said. “Everyone is happy. I can’t even explain how much that means to me right now.”