By Dustin Albino

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Ty Gibbs has moved through the racing ranks at a rapid pace. That made expectations for his rookie season high, coming off a championship-winning season in the Xfinity Series.

As many rookies do, Gibbs has experienced highs and lows throughout his first regular season. Through the opening four races of the season, the No. 54 team had a best finish of 16th at Auto Club Speedway. Gibbs followed that up with four straight top 10s, which included three straight weeks ranking ninth in the finishing order.

In the five races since the Bristol dirt race, Gibbs doesn’t have a top 10 finish. During that span, however, the No. 54 team has had two standout performances at Dover Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway, spending much of both races inside the top five. He was short on fuel at the end of Dover, needing to pit and finished 13th. At Kansas, he spun while battling his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. and clobbered the inside wall. When driving back to the pits, the right front fender tore apart, ending his race.

“I think Kansas and Dover; those two weeks we were really strong,” Gibbs said of his season. “Kansas, we could have finished in the top five, probably a third- or fourth-place car there. Running up front has been fun.”

Gibbs, who is often self-critical, believes that the No. 54 team has been solid. But there’s room to improve, as he ranks 19th in points, 15 markers below the playoff cutline, currently held by Chase Briscoe.

“We‘ve run really great and had some mistakes on my part,” Gibbs said. “If we didn‘t have that, I think we‘d be running in the top 10 mostly every other week. We struggled at Darlington, but those guys kept working and we ended up 16th. I guess it sucks, but not too bad.”

Chris Gayle, veteran crew chief and has been paired with Gibbs since his rookie Xfinity Series season in 2021, believes the No. 54 team has been fairly consistent. He also expected that with Gibbs being a rookie and himself returning to the Cup Series for the first time since 2020 that there would be ups and downs.

“I think it‘s gone as I expected or hoped,” Gayle said. “We‘ve been fairly consistent and haven‘t fallen out of many races, Ty hasn‘t made many mistakes. We probably made more mistakes on little things on our side. Kansas and Dover, specifically, were two top fives that we left on the table that would have really made our season look better to this point.

“I feel like we‘re on pace. We just have to keep nudging forward and getting those top fives consistently and fifth to 10th consistently and a win or something will come from there.”

Because Gibbs is hovering around the playoff bubble, the No. 54 team believes it can still make the playoffs on points, as long as there aren’t many winners that come from below them in points.

But 13 races to determine who is part of the postseason can feel like an eternity.

“There‘s still a bunch of time left to do that,” Gayle said. “You are at your point where you start looking at that and where I rank with everybody and do I need to change strategy or stay the course.”

The biggest highlight for the No. 54 team in 2023 thus far came on Friday, winning the Pit Crew Challenge which came with a $100,000 prize.

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