NASCAR: Joe Gibbs is probably pretty excited right now

Joe Gibbs, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Gibbs, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports /

Last weekend at Daytona International Speedway may have been the most significant weekend for the Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR team in years.

And it wasn’t just because Joe Gibbs got to watch his grandson Ty drive to victory lane in his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series start, although that had a lot to do with it.

Ty Gibbs became the first driver to win in his Xfinity Series debut in the last 15 years and the sixth driver to ever do so, holding off road course ace and reigning series champion Austin Cindric following a crazy final restart at the Daytona International Speedway road course from behind the wheel of his #54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

He became the first driver to ever do it despite having no previous Cup Series experience. In fact, three of the five other drivers to do it had already won Cup Series titles when they made their Xfinity Series debuts.

And Gibbs had never even competed in a Truck Series race; this was his first NASCAR national series start.

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But the significance of this goes beyond the three-time Super Bowl champion head coach of the Washington Redskins, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee getting to watch his grandson drive to victory lane in his series debut.

The 18-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina native is not even a full-time Xfinity Series driver, but following his victory, he was confirmed for a 15-race schedule (14 more races) throughout the remaining 31 races on the schedule. He is still competing full-time in the ARCA Menards Series, and many view him as the favorite to win the title.

Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson recently stated that he didn’t believe any of the organization’s young drivers are ready for Cup rides at this point.

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In addition to the progression of Harrison Burton and Brandon Jones throughout the 2020 season, coupled with Toyota welcoming back John Hunter Nemechek with a Kyle Busch Motorsports Truck Series deal, Gibbs’s win contributes to the process of slowly but steadily changing this statement.

And that’s not all that happened at the 14-turn, 3.61-mile (5.810-kilometer) road course in Daytona Beach, Florida this past weekend.

For several years, specifically since Carl Edwards unexpectedly departed the team following his near-championship 2016 season, Joe Gibbs Racing haven’t been able to find a true fourth driver who is capable of winning races.

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Daniel Suarez replaced Edwards behind the wheel of the #19 Toyota and went winless in two seasons, two seasons which saw all three of his teammates advance to the playoffs. He didn’t advance to the playoffs in either year.

Erik Jones replaced Matt Kenseth behind the wheel of the #20 Toyota after the 2017 season. He won one race in both the 2018 season and the 2019 season, but he never advanced past the round of 16 of the playoffs in either year. A winless 2020 season and failure to make the playoffs led to his release prior to 2021.

He was replaced by Christopher Bell, and already, it appears that this decision was the correct one.

Bell has shown himself to be a contender in just two starts. Save for maybe Denny Hamlin, Bell was the driver to beat in the Daytona 500 before his cut tire. He ended up finishing in 16th place in his first start behind the wheel of the #20 Toyota, but he easily could have been contending for the win.

In just his second start, he muscled his way past former Joe Gibbs Racing driver Joey Logano with just over one lap remaining to secure the victory at the Daytona International Speedway road course.

One win in two starts is a small sample size. It’s far too soon to declare Bell a true championship contender. But already, he is a proven winner. So how good must Gibbs be feeling now, knowing that he finally has four drivers in his Cup cars who can win on any given weekend after several years of trying to find a fourth?

And how good must he be feeling knowing that the young crop of Toyota drivers coming up the ladder are exceeding expectations? If and when the two quadragenarians in his current Cup Series lineup decide to hang it up within the next two seasons, he will need somebody to turn to, after all.

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So the significant of this past race weekend for Joe Gibbs goes far beyond the joy of getting to see his grandson taking the checkered flag in his first career Xfinity Series start. How it plays out into the future remains to be seen, but you can bet anything that he is more optimistic now than he has been in quite some time.