The main Joe Gibbs Racing shop in Huntersville, North Carolina is home to many different departments — most importantly: its four NASCAR Cup Series teams.
Ty Gibbs grew up in the family’s race shop and has explored it from corner to corner. He and his friends, brothers and cousins used to take stools and roll up and down the shop floor.
“It’s huge in there,” Gibbs said.
His time at the shop changed as he got older and his racing career began. While training in the gym, Gibbs can look out to the Cup shop floor, but not until this season has he been able to walk out on the floor and see his name on a JGR race car.
“Having a car in there is a different world,” Gibbs said. “I work out in the gym all the time with my team, and looking out and seeing my name on the back of the cars — that’s really special.”
Gibbs, of course, has driven for his family team before 2023, but his race cars — whether ARCA Menards or Xfinity Series cars — were housed further down the road in a smaller race shop.
The change of scenery is just another reminder Gibbs is no longer a big fish in a small pond. He drove a car envied by many in the garage last season in the Xfinity Series, going on to win seven races and the championship — the main focus even as he put 15 races on his Cup Series resume as the 23XI Racing substitute driver.
“I think being a rookie is something you don’t take for granted. I enjoy being a rookie,” he admitted. “Being in the Xfinity Series in 2021 as a rookie was really cool. Being an ARCA rookie was awesome. It’s a cool experience.
“It’s fun because people around you don’t think you’re going to do well and I like proving them wrong. Even though I’m not out here to prove people wrong, I’m out here because I enjoy racing cars. It’s the cool part about being a rookie — you only get to do it one time. It’s my third and last chance before I go do something different.”
There’s no back-and-forth between teams anymore, though.
Pulling double duty did have its upside. Gibbs loved the seat time and felt it made him enjoy racing even more, but he’s glad to really be able to dig into the Next Gen car.
“I enjoyed all my Xfinity starts and hope to do more, but (it’s) definitely peaceful,” he said of only focusing on one ride. “I did it for 14 weeks straight — the duty double — and that’s a lot of time, a lot of meetings, a lot of work, a lot of grinding time. But I enjoyed the journey and the process. That was really special to me.”
Gibbs says adapting to the new car’s driving style is like going from an Apple phone to an Android.
“It’s completely different, but in a good way,” he explained. “I really enjoy the Cup car, and I’m happy to be in the Cup Series. The Xfinity Series car I enjoyed as well, and it’s always fun racing in that series. So there are just differences that are hard to get used to because the car is the opposite. It’s not like back in the day when the Cup and Xfinity Series cars had the same rear-end housings and stuff like that. This is completely different.
“We’re learning that it’s really hard for the rookies, but if you work really hard and put your time into it, it’s going to speed that process up. And the style you drive it is completely different as well. It’s almost a road course car, so not having (any skew in the rear end), you have to learn to drive differently. That’s the fun part. I enjoy learning new things and getting better at that.”
The first few weeks have been up and down for the No. 54 team. Both Gibbs and his crew chief, Chris Gayle, have been pleased with their speed, but the execution is a work in progress. A 16th-place finish at Fontana is their best result in three races and they sit 20th in the championship standings.
The two are confident things will get better as they go. Gayle is learning the Next Gen car for the first time and Gibbs continues getting more experience. There is a big difference in the depth of competition from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and while it’s something Gibbs is working on getting acclimated to, he’s already picked up a few pointers.
“The style of racing in the Cup Series is, of course, different from the Xfinity Series, but it’s almost a little bit more laid back, in my opinion,” Gibbs said. “The guys are very talented and very good, but in running up on somebody, you’re way faster than some of these guys (and they) just let you by. In the Xfinity Series, they’ll race you as hard as they possibly can.
“Guys here still race very hard for stage wins and they’re very good, but they are very tactical and can understand the moves a lot more.”
Watching how calculated drivers race around him reinforces the need to think about the bigger picture, especially in races that are much longer than ones he’s used to.
“I’m going to be here for a while, hopefully, so looking bigger picture,” Gibbs said. “One race is not going to control your destiny, and one decision might not help at all.”