Nate Ryan

For Kyle Busch, an emotionally wrenching ending with Gibbs: ‘The hardest of it all’


AVONDALE, Arizona – On the toughest day of his most difficult NASCAR season, Kyle Busch endured several emotionally wrenching farewells Sunday to Joe Gibbs Racing, including one that was cruelly unexpected.

Among the most difficult of goodbyes came as Busch approached the yellow No. 18 Toyota he would drive for the final time in the familiar M&Ms/Mars livery that became his signature over 15 seasons.

“I couldn’t even look at my car to begin with because it was the last time I’m going to see it,” Busch said while getting choked up after a seventh-place finish at Phoenix Raceway. “It’s … it’s hard, man. It’s not easy. Just wish it wasn’t what it was or what it is, but I’m going to miss a lot of our fun folks that we got to spend a lot of time with over the years. Just look forward to new adventures.”

The two-time Cup Series champion and the rest of Joe Gibbs Racing were ready to put Phoenix in the rear-view mirror after racing through overwhelming grief Sunday.

Less than 45 minutes before the race, the team announced that Coy Gibbs, JGR’s vice chairman and chief operating officer, died in his sleep. The son of team patriarch Joe Gibbs had celebrated an Xfinity championship by his son, Ty, several hours earlier.

Busch learned of the news Sunday morning just after completing his hospitality rounds. Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota officials then held a meeting with its four crew chiefs and drivers, but Busch said skipping the race never was considered.

“That’s not in our DNA,” he said. “I think everybody always kind of says that. If it was a family member of mine, I would probably have still ran today because this is all we know. This is what we’ve grown up doing for life. And so I don’t think that was ever a question that we don’t run today.”

Busch was the top-performing Gibbs driver and fittingly finished just ahead of Denny Hamlin, who gave Busch a prerace hug on the starting grid.

“Denny and I, as much as we may not see eye to eye or see the same path sometimes, we do respect one another a whole ton, and we will forever,” said Busch, who joined the team in 2008 two years after Hamlin moved up to Cup with Gibbs’ No. 11. “I hope that we have the opportunity to race each other as we have as teammates at least.

“He’s really close to the family. He’s been there since the very beginning. So we were both emotional anyway at the start of it. We both had our reasons why.”

Despite all the emotions, Busch rebounded from one of the worst races of his Gibbs career (finishing six laps down in 29th because he was so slow Oct. 30 at Martinsville Speedway).

“Probably just the adrenaline, the focus and all of that stuff,” he said about how managed Sunday. “Once you put a helmet on, you’ve got enough stuff going on that you’re worried about and everything else. No different than anything of all the trials I’ve been through this year. Today was obviously the worst of it all. And the hardest of it all.

“Just gave it everything I had, and that’s all we had. Wish it could have been better. Wish it could have been a top five. Top three. Run a little bit better. But I’ll take the satisfaction in being the top Gibbs car today.”

He also will take away fond memories of Coy, whom Busch said “was a lot like me.” Coy Gibbs had moved into a management role at JGR in recent years since his older brother, J.D., had exited as team president after being struck by a degenerative neurological condition that preceded his death in 2019.

“Coy didn’t take any bullshit and told everybody the way it was and straight to their face,” Busch said. “I loved Coy for that and for his tenacity. He took on a huge role in filling the shoes of his brother and maybe a little more on the competition side than the business side in that respect, but he’s done nothing but try to push us all to go forward and win races and be competitive and to be strong and all that.

“Honestly that’s what I’ll remember most about him. But the majority of my thoughts and prayers are with Joe and the family. Everybody else. Heather, Melissa, all of them.”

Though he will leave with strong bonds (Busch gave high fives and hugs to all his team members before speaking to reporters), his last season with Gibbs was largely forgettable.

He finished 14th in the points standings (his worst since his 2005 rookie season with Hendrick Motorsports) with a career-low eight top fives.

Busch said the slide began with the 2020 season, which ended in a split from Adam Stevens (the crew chief for his championships in 2015 and ’19).

“Ever since the breakup with Adam, it’s just not been the same,” Busch said. “We were Jimmie (Johnson) and Chad (Knaus). We had that capability. Try to form that again with a new group, and it was never the same, but we were successful. We won some races. We had legitimate shots to win a hell of a lot more races this year than we got. But with this new car, man, you’ve got to be on top of it all the time.”

For the second season of the Next Gen, Busch will start anew in the No. 8 Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing.

Though his official start date won’t be until January 2023 (because of contractual obligations to JGR and Toyota that will tie him up through December and the NASCAR awards ceremony), Busch said he “already has started a little bit” at RCR (including some visits to the team shop).

He has been talking and texting with future teammate Austin Dillon about simulator work and hunting licenses. Busch even dropped a subversive RCR sponsor reference when asked about how he’d be reflecting during the plane ride back to North Carolina (“Maybe I’ll take some 3Chi since the season’s over and not think on the way home.”).

But the pall hanging over Sunday’s race also was a reminder of how tough the season had been.

“It’s got to turn around and get easier at some point,” said Busch, whose wife, Samantha, encapsulated the tumultuous weekend in a social media post late Sunday night. “I don’t know if that’s tomorrow or when that is. We’ve still got the banquet to get through and some other things with the family and all that.

“But this makes it all that much more tougher.”

NASCAR community mourns Coy Gibbs


AVONDALE, Arizona — The NASCAR world was in mourning Sunday as the death of Coy Gibbs cast a pall over the Cup Series’ championship finale at Phoenix Raceway.

Gibbs, the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing, died in his sleep at 49 just hours after his son, Ty, won the 2022 Xfinity Series championship with a victory in the season finale.

NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a statement that “we are heartbroken by the loss of Coy Gibbs.”

“Racing is a family and the relationships within the entire garage go so much deeper than on-track competition,” Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson said in a release. “Today, we lost a dear part of our family. The loss of Coy Gibbs is devastating to everyone at Toyota and TRD. Our deepest condolences and prayers are with Joe, Pat, Heather, Ty, Case, Jett and Elle and the entire Gibbs family and Joe Gibbs Racing family.”

Longtime JGR drivers Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch (who was making his final start as a Gibbs driver before moving to Richard Childress Racing next season) both tweeted they would be racing with heavy hearts on the 1-mile oval.

“Today we will do what we don’t want to do, but we will unite as a family and race for the name on our chest,” Hamlin wrote.

On the prerace starting grid, Busch appeared to be quavering during the national anthem, which followed a moment of silence for Gibbs in the invocation.

“Words can’t describe this day,” Busch posted on social media. “Today already was going to be tough enough, but it’s even more gut-wrenching now. Heartbroken.”

Joe Gibbs Racing was competing for the Cup Series championship Sunday with the No. 20 Toyota of Christopher Bell, whose pit crew includes front tire changer Jackson Gibbs. The son of the late J.D. Gibbs posted a tribute on his helmet to his Uncle Coy.

Several other NASCAR drivers (and Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks) also posted their support for the Gibbs family.

Ty Gibbs had been scheduled to drive in Sunday’s race but was replaced by Daniel Hemric in 23XI Racing’s No. 23 Toyota.

Coy Gibbs, son of NASCAR and NFL Hall of Famer and father of Xfinity champ, dies at 49


AVONDALE, Arizona – Coy Gibbs, the son of NASCAR and NFL Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, died in his sleep, according to a release from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Coy Gibbs was 49. He was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at JGR and the father of Ty Gibbs, who won the 2022 Xfinity Series championship Saturday by winning the season finale at Phoenix Raceway hours before his father’s death.

“It is with great sorrow that Joe Gibbs Racing confirms that Coy Gibbs (co-owner) went to be with the Lord in his sleep last night,” the team said in its statement. “The family appreciates all the thoughts and prayers and asks for privacy at this time.”

Coy Gibbs had moved into a bigger executive role at JGR since his older brother, J.D., had vacated the team president role while battling a degenerative neurological disease. J.D. Gibbs died Jan. 11, 2019 at the age of 49.

Coy Gibbs also started and ran Joe Gibbs Racing’s motocross team, which was a winner and championship contender in Supercross.

“We are heartbroken by the tragic loss of Coy Gibbs,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said. “On behalf of the France Family and all of NASCAR, I extend my deepest condolences to Joe, Pat, Heather, the Gibbs family and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing on the loss of Coy, a true friend and racer.”

Before becoming a racing executive, Coy Gibbs was a successful athlete in multiple sports. He starred as a middle linebacker at Stanford University from 1991-94 before moving into a racing career as a driver.

After racing Late Models in NASCAR series in the late 1990s, he made his Craftsman Truck Series debut in 2000 and raced full time on the circuit from 2001-02. In 58 trucks starts, he had six top five finishes.

After his Xfinity Series debut in 2002, he raced full time on the circuit for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2003. He retired from driving after the season to focus on his role in racing management and nurturing Ty’s burgeoning career.

Ty Gibbs had been scheduled to drive in Sunday’s Cup Series championship finale for 23XI Racing but was replaced by Daniel Hemric.

During the NBC prerace show, analyst Dale Jarrett, who won the 1993 Daytona 500 with Joe Gibbs Racing, said he was “stunned, devastated” by the news.

“It’s family to me because of my association and the opportunities they gave me,” Jarrett said. “To get to know this family and to see Coy come from a college football career, try racing, do anything and everything to be a part of the family business there. And to bring Ty along and put him in a championship situation.

“If there’s any consolation in thinking about this, he was able to watch Ty win his championship yesterday. But my heart, my thoughts and prayers to Joe, Pat, Ty and everyone in the Gibbs family.”

NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty, who lost his son, Adam, in a 2000 crash, said he had many discussions with Joe Gibbs after the death of J.D. Gibbs.

“These are the days in this sport we are a family,” Petty said. “You hurt for this family. There are no words. This is his second son, and I was just crushed when I found out about it. It’s the worst thing a parent can go through to lose a child. But Coy was loved and we can look at so many positive things. That’s what we have to look at, anytime you have this situation, you have to look at the positive side.

“And Joe Gibbs, Pat are strong in their faith. That’s all you have is that faith you’re going to see them again. They’re in a better place. It breaks my heart. It truly, truly again brings you back to that moment in your life. And I know it takes him back and Pat back to that moment they lost J.D. It’s a sadness that will fall on this place as more and more people find out.”

Joe Gibbs started his NASCAR Cup Series team in 1993 after winning three Super Bowls as the coach of the Washington Redskins. Joe Gibbs was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020 after his fourth Cup Series championship.

Coy Gibbs is survived by his wife, Heather, and four children.

Daniel Hemric replaces Ty Gibbs in No. 23 at Phoenix finale after death of Coy Gibbs


AVONDALE, Arizona – Because of the death of his father, Ty Gibbs will be replaced by Daniel Hemric in the No. 23 Toyota for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Phoenix Raceway.

Joe Gibbs Racing confirmed in a statement that Coy Gibbs died in his sleep Saturday night.

The 23XI Racing team had confirmed the driver switch at 2:10 p.m. ET Sunday, almost 90 minutes before the green flag for the race to determine the championship in NASCAR’s premier series.

Gibbs, 20, captured the 2022 Xfinity Series championship Saturday night at Phoenix for Joe Gibbs Racing and was set to make his 16th Cup start this season in place of Kurt Busch, who has been sidelined since late July because of a concussion.

Hemric, who won the 2021 Xfinity championship by winning last year’s finale at Phoenix in his last start with Joe Gibbs Racing, drives full time on the Xfinity circuit for Kaulig Racing, which he joined after his only year at JGR.

He has 46 starts in the Cup Series, including eight in Kaulig’s No. 16 Chevrolet this year. Hemric has a career-best finish of fifth at Talladega Superspeedway in 2019.

This will mark the North Carolina native’s third Cup start at Phoenix. He finished 18th and 21st on the 1-mile oval during his lone full-time Cup season in 2019 with Richard Childress Racing.

Though there has been no official announcement, it’s been widely expected that Gibbs will be promoted to the Cup Series next season in the No. 18 ride being vacated by Kyle Busch.

In place of Kurt Busch, Gibbs started the final six races of the regular season in 23XI Racing’s No. 45 Camry. The team moved Gibbs to the No. 23 for the playoffs in a swap that put Bubba Wallace in the No. 45 that was eligible for the team championship.

In his first full-time Xfinity Series season, Gibbs clinched the championship with his seventh victory of the season Saturday. He led 125 of 200 laps while outdueling JR Motorsports’ title-eligible trio of Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier and Josh Berry.

What’s next for Jimmie Johnson in his return to NASCAR? Questions, answers and analysis

Jimmie Johnson NASCAR ownership
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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AVONDALE, Arizona – Jimmie Johnson entered into NASCAR team ownership Friday, but it wasn’t the first opportunity he had to have a stake in a Cup Series organization.

If he had chosen the path earlier, the seven-time Cup Series champion believes he could have been working alongside Jeff Gordon in Hendrick Motorsports management.

During the early rounds in one of his contract renewals with Rick Hendrick, Johnson said the team owner floated the idea of a “lifetime” deal similar to Gordon, who transitioned into Hendrick Motorsports’ chief operating officer role after becoming a minority partner of the team during his career.

“Rick was like, ‘Look, I’m willing to be creative if you want to be,’ and I just didn’t know what I wanted,” Johnson told NBC Sports after his news conference Friday at Phoenix Raceway to announce his new role at Petty GMS Racing. “Man, the old system just didn’t seem to make sense, and I chose to not take ownership in the team. And then when the charters came along, I was like maybe I should have.

“You look at where the charter value is now, and you’re like, ‘Damn it!’ But you would have had to have the crystal ball.”

Since being introduced in 2016, the prices have mushroomed for buying into the charter system that established guaranteed value for 36 Cup teams in a de-facto franchise system. Four years ago, they reportedly were selling for $3-5 million apiece. Now with NASCAR on the cusp of a new TV rights deal in 2025, and with the charter contract due for a renewal next year that could mean a restructuring with more team revenue, the going rate for a charter now is estimated to be $20-30 million.

Johnson said it’s changed his perspective on NASCAR team equity.

“Mine and many others out there,” he said. “There is a footrace of interested buyers that want to get in the sport and be a part of it.”

But his change of heart about becoming a team owner is more than just transactional.

Over the past two IndyCar seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson developed an unexpected appreciation and passion for the business side of racing. His business team helped broker many of the sponsorship deals that put him in IndyCar (with backing from Carvana) while team owner Chip Ganassi pulled back the curtain on how to fund and operate a race team.

“In the last two and two and a half years, I’ve had a different role, and my office has a different role,” Johnson said. “I’m surprised how much I really do enjoy the business side of it. So I think this is part of an evolution for me. I think the opportunity has changed as well.

“Certainly it makes more sense with the charter system and who knows where this new negotiation goes and revenue share. But a lot of things are trending in the right direction. The new car for a team like Petty GMS, it has helped the bottom line, and that’s obviously the target goal for NASCAR. I still think there’s a lot of work to be done to really hit the target that NASCAR set and (team owners) would like to see.

“But it’s moving in that direction, and then you have it shored up by a charter system that’s valuable. Logically, it just makes more sense in conjunction with my kind of ownership that I’ve had the last couple of years. Because it wasn’t on my radar before.”

As Johnson embarks on an unexpected chapter in his storied career, here are some pressing questions (and analysis) of the seven-time Cup Series champion’s return to NASCAR next season:

Q: After choosing which races he’ll run, what will be Johnson’s first order of business at Petty GMS?

A: Because “that benefits the team in many ways,”, the first hurdle will be integrating his sponsor portfolio into NASCAR.

The next step for Johnson will be trying to figure out where he fits into Petty GMS’ organizational hierarchy. Though the team fields two cars, it’s a relatively lean management setup with team president Mike Beam, competition director Joey Cohen and crew chiefs Dave Elenz and Chad Norris making the major competitive decisions. Beam said Johnson he will be able to have an immediate and major impact on the direction of Petty GMS, which was formed 11 months ago and earned its first victory with Erik Jones at the Southern 500.

Johnson also figures to be a mentor to 20something teammates Jones and Noah Gragson, but he also will have none of their experience with the Next Gen car.

While he might be seeking their advice on track, Johnson said he probably can offer Petty GMS and its drivers the most guidance with public image and sponsors.

“There’s a lot of stuff on the business side that I should be of help,” Johnson said. “One area I feel very comfortable and confident with is operations and competition. The team has done an amazing job. Mike Beam and Joey Cohen have won with a brand new team in Year 1. A lot of exciting things are taking place there that I’m just going to sit back and watch those guys do their thing.”

But he also is thinking about the future as a talent scout to recruit prospects into the pipeline of a team that also races a truck and has ambitions about expanding into other series.

“It’s a hat I’ve never worn before,” Johnson said. “I’ve got to start watching support series races with a different eye now. I really haven’t thought of that yet.”

Q: How often will Johnson be attending races solely as a team owner?

A: Beyond the selected races he will drive, Johnson won’t be at the track weekly. After a full-time IndyCar season in which he often felt pulled in too many directions, he is trying to carve out more time at home with his wife and two daughters.

He also lives about an hour from the team’s shop in Statesville, North Carolina, and plans to be commuting regularly.

“I think there’s a work-life balance I’m trying to achieve,” he said. “I feel initially I’ll be more effective at home, and there’s probably more I can do during the week than standing around at the racetrack. So it will all define itself and we’ll see.

“I’m not a guy to sit still. I have to say I probably don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into, and I mean that in a very positive manner. I know this is home and the industry I’ve grown up in, and I know all my knowledge and resources and contacts apply to this industry. So I’m in the right place for that. But I just don’t know how much time it’s going to require. I think that’s really the big unknown.”

Q: Will the team’s name change to incorporate its new co-owner?

A: Though Maury Gallagher remains the team’s majority owner and seven-time champion Richard Petty its chairman, there likely will be a rebranding to reflect the addition of Johnson. Because the whirlwind deal was completed in under two months, there wasn’t time to settle on a new moniker – but Johnson’s Petty GMS debut in the 2023 Daytona 500 would seem a perfect time for an unveiling.

“If you have any good ideas, we have a lot of names to sort out,” Johnson said with a laugh. “We’ll figure out a solution. I don’t’ know what that is, but certainly being a stakeholder in the team, that’s a consideration and something we’re working on. Again, it just all happened so fast, we don’t know where it’s headed yet.”

Q: Will Johnson eventually become the team’s majority owner?

A: Gallagher and Petty both indicated they expect to hand the reins over to Johnson in the future.

“From my standpoint, it’s a big, big step, not just for one year, but I’m looking farther down the road,” Petty said. “If Jimmie comes in, does his deal, I’m 85 years old, so I’m not going to be here for another 15 or 20 years, and then Jimmie can kind of take over. “

Johnson demurred when asked if that was his plan. “Long term, I just don’t know what that looks like,’ he said. “We’re literally weeks into this taking place, and I know that I have so much to learn on the ownership side.”

Q: Will the team switch to Hendrick Motorsports engines and an alliance with Johnson’s former team?

A: Petty GMS receives its engines from Richard Childress Racing, but the deal is up for next season. Hendrick is the other Chevrolet engine supplier in Cup, and Johnson said he wants to explore options with his former Cup team (that he drove for from 2002-20).

“It seems very logical to look at that,” he said. “Where it goes, I don’t know. The team has an existing relationship with RCR, and there’s a lot to consider there, but if I can help, that’s part of my involvement with this team, whether a technical alliance, strengthening a relationship with a manufacturer, helping bring new personnel into the shop because I’m there. That’s all part of why Maury was so interested.

“It’s certainly an option we’ll pursue. Sitting here in November I have no clue how that will shake out. I hope to bring the conversation to the table with the relationships I have if it’s bettering our position within GM. The role I’m entering, I feel I’ll need to tap into every resource I have to help this team grow and elevate to the next level.”

Q: How well did Johnson know Petty GMS owner Maury Gallagher?

A: Prior to the recent negotiations, Johnson hadn’t met his new business partner in person, but he took note of the success that GMS Racing had while winning championships in the truck and ARCA series.

“I watched how his drivers would get out of his trucks and talk so highly of Maury,” Johnson said. “I always had this respect for him though I hadn’t had the chance to shake his hand or get to know him. He’s always left such an impression with others on doing things the right way and being committed to the program. Really being run like a family race team. All of that is true as I continue to learn about him and spend time with him and understand his vision of where he wants to be in a short period of time.”

Johnson alluded there have been other opportunities to get involved with NASCAR team ownership since he left full-time driving two years ago but said only Gallagher offered “without a doubt, the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I fit into this team very well,” Johnson said. “My strengths and what I can offer really does fit well into Petty GMS and strengthens us all. So I just think it’s certainly having a gut feeling about the people you’re about to go into business with, and Maury is a standup guy, and I quickly understood that and knew it was the place to be.”

Q: Which NASCAR Cup Series races will he enter?

A: Though Johnson said he has a list of races beyond Daytona that “I’m super interested in and would love to do,” Johnson said his driving schedule also will be driven by sponsor requests and team needs.

“It would be really nice if I could test a car and then go to that race because so much has changed, how can we collect for data and information for our group to help (Jones and Gragson),” he said.

Q: Will Carvana be sponsoring his Cup cars as it did in IndyCar?

A: Johnson told NBC Sports that he would be meeting Friday night with officials from Carvana, which is based down the road from Phoenix Raceway in Tempe, Arizona.

After announcing two months ago that Carvana verbally had agreed to support his racing in 2023, Johnson said nothing officially had been signed. “I’m certainly optimistic and hopeful,” he said. “They did give the green light before the IndyCar season was over if I wanted to go back to full-time IndyCar racing. I had that opportunity and that choice, so I am very optimistic that partnership will continue forward. They’re aware and know something’s cooking (with NASCAR).”

Q: Did Johnson worry about being unable to find his way back to NASCAR?

A: Drivers often talk about being “out of sight, out of mind” when they leave full-time rides, and the same feelings applied for a first-ballot NASCAR Hall of Famer.

“There is a feeling of that,” Johnson said. “I think it’s pretty common for the driver that’s walked away to think, ‘Why isn’t my phone ringing? Why aren’t people calling and inviting me?’ ”

Johnson, who hadn’t been back to a NASCAR race weekend in nearly two years until Phoenix, said his wife, Chandra, encouraged him to be proactive about staying in touch.

“I was like, ‘Stop being right, I don’t want to hear this,’ ” Johnson said with a laugh. “But it is a two-way street, so I have stayed in contact with folks at NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports and on and on, and I have had a relationship that’s felt good. But I have been very busy, so it’s been easy to be away, and I was wondering how it would feel walking back in the garage for the first time or climbing back in a car. I went through some of that today, and I know there are more layers to come.”

The initial greetings were very warm as Johnson received some “big bear hugs” from many former No. 48 team members.

“Seeing the old faces and everyone has been great,” he said.