LONG POND, Pa. — Ty Gibbs was planning on watching the NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway from afar. But that changed hours after finishing second in Saturday‘s Xfinity Series race to Noah Gragson.
While driving down a highway after departing the track to an airport to fly home, Gibbs was asked if he could drive the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing on Sunday, replacing Kurt Busch.
In the final round of qualifying on Saturday, Busch lost control of his car in Turn 3 and backed his No. 45 Toyota into the wall. After being transported to the infield care center, he wasn‘t cleared to compete due to concussion-like symptoms. On Sunday morning, Busch met with doctors at the infield care center once more for a further evaluation, and he wasn‘t cleared to compete.
Collectively, 23XI Racing, Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing officials elected to put Gibbs in the car over a handful of other Toyota drivers. And Gibbs prepared until 1 a.m. Sunday morning on a simulator, turning laps at Pocono.
“My best friend Drew Dollar is here and we were parked on the side of the highway for like 45 minutes trying to figure out what I needed to do, where I needed to go, do I need to go home, do I stay?” Gibbs told a group of reporters. “It was chaos. It was a whirlwind. My heart sunk, for sure.
“The biggest thing was not having that much Cup experience on the sim and not much of all that. We all do a bunch of sim, but it‘s still the real deal.”
Early Sunday morning, Gibbs, Hamlin and the No. 45 team were at the car preparing to get Gibbs settled. The team needed to get Gibbs‘ seat and adjust the pedals. The first time Gibbs ever got into a Cup car was in the garage to get acclimated to the Toyota, wearing Kurt Busch‘s firesuit and Hamlin‘s shoes.
This was taken this morning. You see Ty Gibbs by the No. 45 car — he will make his much anticipated Cup debut today. https://t.co/VZBfMfXeXH
— Dustin Albino (@DustinAlbino) July 24, 2022
And with little time to prepare, Gibbs was trying to collect his thoughts, realizing he will never get a second chance at his Cup debut.
“We were scrambling to get everything ready at the time, so I didn‘t get to take in the moment,” Gibbs said of getting into a Cup car for the first time. “But I‘ll always remember it and remember firing the car up for the first time and listening to how it sounds. All of these little things I‘ll be able to remember, so I think that‘s really special.”
Before the race began, Gibbs got words of encouragement from Kurt Busch, telling the 19-year-old to “Just do it.” He said that‘s the best advice anyone could give him.
Once the engines roared, Gibbs made a few trips down pit road to get a knack for pitting a Cup car and making some last-minute adjustments. When the green flag waved, he was instructed to stay four to five seconds behind the pack.
Gibbs drove to 23rd in the opening stage. During the second stage, he avoided four spins and placed 29th. But during the final stage, he got a bit more racier.
“Not having any practice and hardly having sim time in this thing, it‘s really hard to adapt,” he said. “We come with a traditional rear end housing and a steering box. It‘s a lot different. I don‘t think the steering was different, I think it was just the rear end and how that handles. I‘ve experienced it before on the simulator, but not in person and all of those different things add up.”
In the middle portion of the race, Gibbs recalls racing with Ross Chastain and William Byron, learning how to work the air to his advantage.
When the checkered flag flew, Gibbs crossed the finish line in 18th position. With Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch getting disqualified, it moved the No. 45 Toyota up to 16th in the finishing order.
Overall, it was a solid day at the office for the Cup rookie.
“I still wish I could have put it together a little bit quicker,” Gibbs said. “But these are experiences in my life that I‘ll learn and take all of it and how it felt [for my] Cup debut.
“I never thought I‘d ever be at this level, no matter what anybody says or where I‘ve come from. It‘s super cool. The future hits fast. I‘m already making my Cup Series debut and I graduated high school last year and I was in fourth grade, I feel like, two months ago. All of this is crazy.
Gibbs‘ grandfather, Joe Gibbs, was pleased with Ty‘s performance.
“He was discouraged that he couldn‘t get more out of it,” the Hall of Famer said. “I appreciate Denny, Michael and everybody for letting Ty jump in there. That was his first run at it and I think he realizes how tough it is. He was wanting to get more out of it.”
Gibbs will return to the Xfinity Series next weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, where he‘s earned a series-high four wins this season.
Busch‘s status for Indianapolis will be determined later this week.
A day I will never forget.
Thank you @23XIRacing! P16.
Proverbs 3:5-6 pic.twitter.com/bYZKDtTIzg
— Ty Gibbs (@TyGibbs_) July 25, 2022