LONG POND, PA. — Despite never driving the Gen 7 car before Sunday’s M&Ms Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway, Ty Gibbs posted a respectable 16th-place finish in his NASCAR Cup Series debut.
“I never thought I’d ever be able to be at this level,” Gibbs said post-race. “It’s the future, it’s fast I guess. I’m already making my NASCAR Cup Series debut. I graduated high school last year and I was in fourth grade about, I feel like, two months ago.”
Three-and-a-half hours before the start of Sunday’s race, NASCAR ruled Kurt Busch out medically. Gibbs, 19, was tabbed to drive Busch’s No. 45 Toyota.
The eight-time NASCAR Xfinity Series winner learned the news while driving through Pennsylvania, en route to the airport Saturday night after the NXS race.
“It was chaos for sure. My best friend Drew Dollar was here and we were parked on the side of the highway for like 45 minutes trying to figure out what I needed to do, My heart sank for sure,” Gibbs recalled. “The biggest thing was not having that much Cup experience. We all do a bunch of sim but it’s still the real deal so trying to get used to that was definitely different.”
To adjust to Gibbs’ inexperience with the drastically-different Gen 7 Cup car, the 23XI Racing team had him ride behind the pack and get a feel for the car. Because of this, he finished a quiet 31st place in the first two stages.
As the race progressed, crew chief Billy Scott put Gibbs on an alternate strategy which, aided three drivers crashing out of the top 20, helped him move up.
With five laps to go, Gibbs ran 15th but fell back to 18th after he was passed by three cars with nine-lap fresher tires than him.
After Toyota teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were disqualified for failing post-race inspection, Gibbs moved up to a 16th-place finish.
Even as the young phenom posted an impressive finish in his debut, the day still belonged to the man whose firesuit he borrowed on a whim for the race.
“Kurt [Busch] talked to me a lot [before the race] and I wanna say thank you to him for that. He’s a great teammate. If you ask all the other Toyota teammates, they say the same thing. He’s awesome,” Gibbs said. “This car, I’m thankful to be in and I want to say we’re praying and hoping he gets better and that’s the most important thing about this finish.”
Busch is expected to return to the No. 45 Toyota on July 31 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, pending a medical evaluation that will determine if he is cleared to race.
Gibbs is currently third in the NASCAR Xfinity Series regular-season standings with a series-high four wins, seven top-5 finishes, 10 top-10s, three poles and 456 laps led after 18 races.
The NXS races next at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on July 30 (3:30 p.m. ET; TV: NBC, Peacock)