LONG POND, Pa. — Twenty-four hours ago, Ty Gibbs had just come off a tough defeat to Noah Gragson in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Pocono Raceway. He left the track and started to head home to North Carolina, not thinking twice.
Suddenly, 23XI Racing called. After Kurt Busch crashed in Cup Series qualifying on Saturday, NASCAR had yet to clear him to race in Sunday’s M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400. They needed Gibbs on standby, just in case Busch wasn’t cleared in time.
Gibbs flew home and jumped on the Toyota simulator until 1 a.m. He went to sleep and flew back to Pocono on Sunday.
“[Drew Dollar and I] 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,” Gibbs said after the race. “It was just chaos. It was just a whirlwind for sure.”
NASCAR re-evaluated Busch in the morning and did not clear him to race. Busch said in a statement he had “concussion-like symptoms.” Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan officially tapped Gibbs to drive the No. 45 and make his Cup Series debut.
Gibbs prepared to race but he needed some help. His Xfinity hauler stopped so personnel could grab his helmet and other safety equipment to send back to the track. He borrowed Busch’s firesuit with “Champion” inked on it and walked around the garage in a pair of Hamlin’s Jordans.
Gibbs started the race from the rear and spent the first two stages adapting to the Next Gen car, a ride he had never even sat in before Sunday. In Stage 3, Gibbs grew more confident and started to make moves.
Once the checkered flag flew, Gibbs was in 18th. After disqualifications to Hamlin and Kyle Busch, Gibbs’ final position improved to 16th.
“Not having any practice and hardly a lot of simulator time in this thing is hard to adapt from,” Gibbs said. “I still wish I could have put it together a little bit quicker, but these are experiences in my life that I’ll learn and just take hold of and remember how it was in my Cup debut.”
Gibbs said that he talked with Kurt Busch before the race and that he offered advice.
“Just calm down and do it. Just do it,” Gibbs said. “He talked to me a lot and I want to say thank you to him for that. He’s a great teammate.
“This is his car and I’m thankful to be in it. We’re praying and hoping he gets better.”
Hamlin said Toyota and 23XI Racing considered their options and decided it would be best to put Gibbs in the car.
“We thought it could be a good opportunity for him 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 said. “It was a good opportunity for him to do that, especially in a no-pressure situation.”
Joe Gibbs, Ty’s grandfather and owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, said he was glad that Ty got the opportunity to race.
“That was his first run at it and I think he realizes how tough it is,” Joe Gibbs said. “He was discouraged he couldn’t get more out of it… I appreciate Denny and the whole group over there for letting Ty jump in there.”
Gibbs returns to the NASCAR Xfinity Series next weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.