Xfinity Series regular Ty Gibbs has been the injury replacement for Kurt Busch in the No. 45 Cup Series car for the past two races. Interestingly enough, he was not the original choice for 23XI Racing.
Team owner Denny Hamlin provided the revelation during the August 1 episode of the “Door, Bumper, Clear” podcast. He weighed in on Gibbs’ performance and revealed that John Hunter Nemechek was actually the original choice to replace the 23XI Racing drivers if they were unable to suit up for any reason. However, the situation changed after Busch wrecked during qualifying in July at Pocono Raceway.
“We didn’t know,” Hamlin said during his August 1 appearance. “It was a complete clusterf***. We didn’t know what we were doing. We must have changed the plan three times the night before the race because we had protocols to put John Hunter in.
“We had planned for John Hunter in January. We had him fit in the car. We had his insert, how much he needs to be raised up, the pedals. We had all of our presets. Then as this happens, I talked to Joe [Gibbs], tell him what’s going on. Then, obviously, the ‘should we put Ty in the car’ question comes up.”
Hamlin added that they went back and forth and that he listed three different drivers during his conversations with the crews at the track. Gibbs ultimately made the start at Pocono Raceway and the following week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
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Hamlin Weighed in About Gibbs’ Cup Series Readiness
Gibbs, who is currently in his first full-time season in the Xfinity Series, has made two starts as the injury replacement for Busch. He has completed a race at a 2.5-mile track and avoided the carnage of Turn 1 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before posting two top 20 finishes.
With these quiet performances in which Gibbs avoided mistakes, there are already conversations taking place about when he should move up to the Cup Series. He has four wins in the 2022 Xfinity Series season, and he turned in solid outings while adjusting to the Next Gen car. Should he make the move now or spend another year in Xfinity?
“I mean, the only way to learn is by fire,” Hamlin said. “I mean, the longer that you wait, the more you get behind us. I mean, in the Generation 6 car, we had the same basic car on the same tracks for a decade. So a rookie had no chance really to come in and beat us veterans that had been racing for years the same car on the same track. We just had too many notes.”
Hamlin said that the path to the Cup Series would be rough for Gibbs, especially during qualifying. He said it’s more likely that he would make a slight error and qualify outside the top 25 instead of just losing a few spots in the Xfinity Series. However, Hamlin added that trial by fire would ultimately be the best for Gibbs in the long run.
Hamlin Had His Own Trial by Fire
As Hamlin acknowledged during his appearance, he had his own trial by fire early in his NASCAR career. He made one Xfinity Series start and five Truck Series starts in 2004 before taking on a full-time schedule in the Xfinity Series the following year. Hamlin also made his Cup Series debut in 2005 with seven starts, which included three top 10 finishes and one pole award.
Hamlin then moved up to the Cup Series full time in 2006 while also starting every race on the Xfinity Series schedule. He hit the ground running in the top level of NASCAR by winning his first two career races. He swept at Pocono Raceway after winning the pole both times, and he posted only one DNF in his rookie season.
The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing entry finished the 2006 season by winning Rookie of the Year, and he followed it up by winning at least one race for the next 11 consecutive seasons. This includes the 2010 campaign when he set a career high with eight trips to Victory Lane.