When the checkered flag flew on the 2019 Daytona 500, Joe Gibbs Racing celebrated the organization's third win in The Great American Race and driver Denny Hamlin celebrated his second win in the sport's biggest event in four years.
Although it has been a stellar start to the year on the track, off the track it's been one of the more difficult off seasons for the team and for its founder, former Super Bowl winning coach Joe Gibbs.
In January, the team's co-founder and Coach Gibbs' eldest son J.D. Gibbs passed away after struggling with a degenerative neurological disease for the past several years. While the Gibbs family and the entire organization grieved for the loss of their husband, father, son, brother, uncle, friend, and leader, they still never lost focus on the task at hand.
The resultant trip to Daytona 500 victory lane was the second big win of the season for the Gibbs organization. The first was Coach Gibbs' young grandson, Ty, who earned a late model stock car win at Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina.
Ty, the 16-year-old son of Coy Gibbs, himself a former NASCAR driver, will be making his ARCA Menards Series debut in the ARCA Pensacola 200 presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions at Five Flags Speedway. Gibbs will drive the No. 18 Monster Energy/ORCA Coolers Toyota in all the short track races, while 2017 series Bounty Rookie of the Year winner Riley Herbst will take the wheel at the superspeedway races.
“We’re obviously excited to get to Five Flags and get my season started,” Gibbs said. “But we’re equally excited to get to all of the tracks we’re going to race at this season. They’re all different and every one of them has their own challenges. Mark (McFarland, crew chief) has told me a lot about all of them.”
Not only does Gibbs have the entirety of the JGR organization behind him, he also has last year's ARCA Menards Series championship-winning car owner Mark McFarland serving as his crew chief.
“It’s a lot less stress this year than last year, for sure,” McFarland said, referring to his championship run as a team co-owner at MDM Motorsports. “I am back to having fun. I enjoy being a crew chief. Once I transitioned from driving to being a crew chief, I really came to enjoy working with these young drivers. It’s fun to see these guys figure things out in two or three races that might have taken me a couple years to learn.”
McFarland has only been to Five Flags Speedway twice, both as a crew chief. In 2014, the team he led took Ben Rhodes to victory lane in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race. He is optimistic Gibbs can give him his second trip to victory lane at the famed half-mile.
“Ty has a lot of talent and a lot of speed,” McFarland said. “It’s been a pleasure to come to work here and get to go test with him and see how quickly he picks things up. I have only worked with (teammate) Riley Herbst at Daytona, and there’s not really much to do to make the car any faster once you’re there, so I am looking forward to the chance to go testing and racing with him later on in the season too.”
Gibbs has been piloting full-bodied stock cars for a couple of seasons after starting his racing career in outlaw karts at Millbridge Speedway. He's found some success in the late model stock car division, and has tested the ARCA car several times leading into his first career start.
“The biggest difference between the late models I am used to and the ARCA car is it takes a totally different style of driving,” Gibbs said. “We’ve tested a few times so I’ve had a chance to get used to it. My dad (former NASCAR driver Coy Gibbs) helps me out whenever we go to a new track. He’s always giving me pointers on how to get around a race track we’ve never been to before.”
Gibbs doesn’t feel any pressure to perform from his famous grandfather, team owner Joe Gibbs.
“He loves to see all of us out here having fun,” Gibbs said. “There’s no pressure from him at all. We’re one big family here and he wants to see his kids and his grandkids go out and have fun.”
Gibbs and the rest of the ARCA Menards Series take to the half-mile Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida on Saturday, March 9. Practice starts at 1 pm ET/12 pm CT; General Tire Pole Qualifying is set for 4:30 pm ET/3:30 pm CT; and the ARCA Pensacola 200 is set to go green at 8 pm ET/7 pm CT and will be televised live on MAVTV. ARCARacing.com will have live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates throughout all on track sessions free for ARCA for Me members. New members may register for free at ARCARacing.com/login.
-ARCA Menards Series Press Release