Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs made his Cup Series debut at Pocono Raceway on July 24 as an injury replacement for Kurt Busch. He turned in a top-20 finish in what was a major learning experience, and he responded with some strong words.
“It was a learning day. I felt like I learned a lot,” Gibbs told NBC Sports after exiting the No. 45 Toyota Camry TRD of 23XI Racing. “I’m very thankful. It was close to almost a top 15. It was fun racing with Brad (Keselowski). Never thought I’d race with these guys. It was just cool being next to them on the track. So, to 10-year-old Ty, that means a lot. I don’t think I would ever expect that.”
The defending Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year was within reach of a top-15 finish after starting the day at the rear of the field in a backup car. He ultimately fell back to 18th after battling with Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Chase Briscoe, and some other Cup Series winners. Though Gibbs moved up to 16th after NASCAR disqualified both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch for failing post-race inspection.
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23XI Racing’s Owner Explained the Decision
When NASCAR announced that doctors did not clear Busch to compete in the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400, there were questions about his replacement for the Cup Series race. 23XI Racing provided the answer by stating that Gibbs would make his debut while driving the No. 45 Toyota Camry TRD.
There are several drivers that could have stepped in at a moment’s notice. Kyle Busch Motorsports driver John Hunter Nemechek has one full Cup Series season on his resume while Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones has extensive experience at all of NASCAR’s tracks, albeit in the Xfinity Series.
Hamlin and 23XI Racing ultimately opted for Gibbs after some discussion with Michael Jordan and the key decision-makers at both Toyota-affiliated organizations. The reason is that it provided Gibbs with a unique experience.
“Just thought that it could be a good opportunity for [Ty] to get in there and get his feet wet in the series and see what it’s like to drive a Next Gen car,” Hamlin told media members after the race. “He’s never driven it before, so I just thought it was a good opportunity for him to do that, especially in a no-pressure situation.”
Gibbs Avoided Some Other Issues
Simply avoiding wrecks and learning how the Next Gen cars handle should have been a difficult task for Gibbs, especially with no prior Cup Series experience. He pulled it off and turned in a top-20 finish. He also avoided some other issues.
One of the most difficult tasks for Cup Series drivers is completing green-flag pit stops without receiving any penalties. It’s all too easy to speed, miss the pit stall, or drag away equipment while trying to avoid falling too far behind the field.
Gibbs only received one penalty during the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400. He headed to his stall before pit road was open on Lap 11 along with Cole Custer. Both drivers had to drop to the rear of the field on Lap 12, but they had plenty of time to work their way back.