Friday, 21 January 2022

Is it Ty Gibbs, or is it the 54 car? Featured

Posted On Sunday, 24 October 2021 05:30 Written by
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The 54 car is always a threat to win the Xfinity race, no matter who is behind the wheel. It has 11 victories in 2021, 4 from young Ty Gibbs. The 54 car is always a threat to win the Xfinity race, no matter who is behind the wheel. It has 11 victories in 2021, 4 from young Ty Gibbs. Photo courtesy of NASCAR

There’s something about the 54 car this year in the Xfinity Series. The car has taken an amazing 11 checkered flags in the 2021 season: 5 courtesy of Cup champion Kyle Busch (who thankfully has moved on from Xfinity racing, allegedly); 1 from Truck Series regular John Hunter Nemechek, 1 from Cup racer Christopher Bell, and — most curiously — four from the young man they call Ty Gibbs (aka the team owner’s grandson). Gibbs had an amazing Saturday at Kansas, winning the Xfinity race, taking the ARCA pole, and nearly winning the ARCA race (he lost on the final restart). Oh, and he also claimed the ARCA championship.

Did I mention Ty Gibbs is only 19 years old (yes, he was born in October of 2002, in case you didn’t already feel old).

The hype around him is unlike anything we’ve seen about a young driver like this since, perhaps, Joey Logano in his “sliced bread” days. (Of note: The team Logano drove as a teen — Joe Gibbs Racing)


What’s most curious, though, in 2021 for team Gibbs is that its three full-time competitors this year — Daniel Hemric in the 18, Brandon Jones in the 19 and Harrison Burton in the 20 — have not won a single race. That stat is truly mind-blowing considering the double-digit success rate of the 54 car.

So what’s going on here?
First, let’s look at the other drivers and how their years have gone.

Daniel Hemric runs up front each week, and is clearly a talented racer, but he can’t seem to seal the deal. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard an announcer say he’s still trying to get his first win in NASCAR’s top three series, I would be Scrooge McDuck. Hemric shocked everyone recently by announcing he is leaving JGR and the 18 ride and moving on to Kaulig’s Xfinity team in 2022 to replace Justin Haley (who is moving up to Cup in 2022).

Brandon Jones is perhaps the team’s weakest link in terms of pure racing talent, as he seems to wreck more than most drivers. But he’s got funding and is back next year. Money talks.

Harrison Burton has had a mediocre 2021 season, and been less competitive than in 2020. He’s  moving to Wood Brothers Racing in Cup next year, replacing Matt DiBenedetto in the legendary 21 car.

That means the Xfinity lineup for Joe Gibbs Racing on the Xfinity side of things in 2022 is likely Ty GIbbs in the 18, Brandon Jones in the 19, and NOBODY in the 20. The 54 should stay on with a rotation of drivers, and continue to win races.

Put all this information together and it tells an interesting story, begging the question: Are Gibbs’ full-time drivers leaving the team because of a perceived favoritism toward the anointed one — Gibbs’ own grandson — and the No. 54 “team car” that is competing for the owner’s title? Do they think the cars they compete in are not being prepared at the same level due to favoritism? Do they not see a path forward to Cup in the Gibbs organization?

Maybe some of that is true, and maybe none of that is true, but the real question we’ll find out the answer to in the next few years is this … Is Ty Gibbs winning because of the quality of that 54 car? Or is Ty GIbbs winning because of Ty Gibbs’ talent?

In reality, both play a role in the young driver’s success. Clearly the 54 is a hot rod every week and will be fast for whoever gets behind the wheel. I’m not saying your grandma could win in that ride, but she might get a Top 10.

But Gibbs is not one to brush aside as just lucky due to good equipment. In 47 ARCA series starts over three years, he has 18 wins. That’s nearly a 40 percent winning percentage. Even accounting for the fact that ARCA is a series that’s much easier for well-funded teams like Gibbs’ to win in, that number shows he’s a true talent on some level.

But how high is the limit? What will be his ceiling?

Will he come back to Xfinity in 2022 in the 18 car and win boatloads of races? Or will he fizzle out like some of his Gibbs teammates this year?

Is Ty Gibbs destined to reach the Cup series in the near future when Denny Hamlin or Martin Truex Jr. or Kyle Busch retire? And will he be able to replicate their success once he is at the top level of the sport … competing for wins weekly and championships every fall?

Obviously we don’t know the answer to this question yet. It’s a Catch-22, because Ty Gibbs has always had his grandfather behind him, bankrolling him with top equipment since he was knee-high to a grasshopper (which to be honest, he kind of still is). We don’t know what he can do in equipment that’s not high-level Gibbs gear.

That makes him polarizing. Some fans consider him another silver spoon driver who got everything handed to him, and they have a point.

But he has also lived up to that equipment and performed on track, taking checkered flags at a pace that we haven’t seen in years from such a young driver.

Whichever way it goes — if Gibbs becomes the next Casey Atwood and fades away, or goes on to obliterate Kyle Busch’s 200+ win total across the sport’s top three series in the year 2042 — I can guarantee one thing: He’s going to be a lightning rod of a driver — attracting many big, and a large share of detractors, throughout his career.

 

Ricciardo shows NASCAR love at COTA

For those who missed it, Formula 1 star Daniel Ricciardo showed his love for his racing hero Dale Earnhardt Sr. by driving a 1984 Wrangler car of Earnhardt’s around the track at COTA in Texas during the F1 weekend on Saturday, even doing some burnouts for the crowd. And I must say it was a cool site to see.

The Honey Badger has people talking about a NASCAR crossover, and there are realistic scenarios that could make it happen.

The long-term scenario is that Ricciardo makes a transition to NASCAR racing after he competes for a few more years in Formula 1. He’s a young man at 32, with lots of time left in his racing career. 

But in the meantime, if schedules and finances allow, don’t be surprised if Ricciardo decides to do a one-off race in NASCAR’s Xfinity series at a road course, perhaps Watkins Glen. Dale Earnhardt Jr. even left open the door to that possibility on Saturday when it was brought up, saying: “That’d be fun!

Whether it actually happens, who knows? But I love that it’s a discussion that’s taking place. And if Ricciardo ever made a full-time move to NASCAR, his personality would lend itself to having an instant fan base that would rival some of the sport’s top drivers. Count me among those hoping the Aussie makes the move one day.

 

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Matt Myftiu can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

 



Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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