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Menzer: Self-effacing Gibbs has had Hall-worthy career

January 26, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- He won't admit it, but Joe Gibbs has put together a career worthy of Hall of Fame

Joe Gibbs made it a point to make NASCAR's Hall of Fame induction ceremony last Friday night.

He had some folks he wanted to thank.

"I can't picture myself being in there. I look at all these guys who helped build the sport, and I'm still trying to get my feet on the ground."

--JOE GIBBS

"I went down there the other night to try to find Dale Inman, but I thought the whole group that went in was great," Gibbs said Monday. "It's great to see guys who built this sport get in. I think we all owe these guys a debt of gratitude -- because they went before us and built this sport. They made this sport what it is today.

"For us to be in this sport, for our family to be in it, it's because of what they built and we owe them for that. I told Dale Inman and Darrell Waltrip that the other night."

Inman and Waltrip were included in the latest class inducted into NASCAR's Hall, joining Cale Yarborough, Glen Wood and Richie Evans. Whenever another class is added -- and this was just the third for the relatively new venue -- it always sparks debate about who should go in next.

Should the next group of five include Rusty Wallace as well as pioneers Herb Thomas and Buck Baker, the three next-highest drivers on the career wins list in NASCAR's top series not yet so honored? And what about Leonard Wood, Glen's innovative brother who has to rank as one of the sport's all-time top mechanics?

That could be four of the next five, but then you have to start looking at some other owners. And when one starts looking at owners who have the credentials to eventually get into the Hall, Gibbs might be the only one surprised to find himself right in line behind a couple of old-timers in Raymond Parks and Cotton Owens. Not for inclusion in the next Hall class -- of current owners, that honor would go to Rick Hendrick -- but for eventual inclusion.

No laughing matter

Gibbs laughed heartily at the thought Monday, when he appeared at a Joe Gibbs Racing function to help kick off the 30th NASCAR preseason media tour.

"I can't picture myself being in there. I look at all these guys who helped build the sport, and I'm still trying to get my feet on the ground," he said in between chuckles.

That is the way Gibbs sees himself and his operation, even after 20 years in the sport. Despite the fact that many still call him Coach, he's now been an owner in NASCAR for four years longer than he served as head coach of the Washington Redskins in the National Football League.

It could be argued that even after a down year at JGR last season -- one that brought about big changes this offseason, with new crew chiefs for two of the three JGR Cup drivers -- Gibbs' tenure as a stock-car owner has been even more successful than the stint with the Redskins that earned him three Super Bowl victories and a place in the NFL Hall of Fame.

You want some statistics to back up that claim?

Gibbs, who began his race team in 1992 and earned his first victory with Dale Jarrett behind the wheel in 1993, has put his Cup cars in Victory Lane 93 times in 1,406 starts over 20 seasons. His teams have won three Cup championships already -- Bobby Labonte in 2000, and Tony Stewart in both 2001 and 2005 before Stewart left JGR to help form his own race team.

Furthermore, JGR cars have 68 Nationwide victories in 838 starts and the 2009 championship with Kyle Busch, along with two other owners titles, in that series over 15 years.

How JGR stacks up

Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, is the only owner who can truly blow the JGR ownership numbers away. In 28 years, Hendrick's cars have won 199 times in 2,972 Cup starts. Hendrick cars also have 23 wins in 325 Nationwide starts over 15 seasons, and 25 more wins in the Camping World Truck Series over eight seasons. They also have amassed a total of 13 championships across NASCAR's three national touring series.

But Gibbs is hot in pursuit of Richard Childress, whose Richard Childress Racing teams have earned 100 Cup wins in 2,159 starts over 38 years; 56 wins in 765 Nationwide starts over 14 years; and 24 wins in 208 Truck Series starts over eight years. (Childress does also have 11 championships across the three series).

And Coach Gibbs absolutely is in the Hall-of-Fame ballpark when current inductee Bud Moore's numbers are included in any Hall discussion. Granted, Moore's contributions as one of the sport's true pioneers cannot be accurately measured in mere numbers -- much the same as the aforementioned Parks and Owens. But Moore earned a total of 63 wins and two championships in 37 years as a car owner, benchmarks already surpassed by JGR.

So get used to it, Coach. Someday, you're going to be inducted into your second major sports Hall of Fame. Gibbs just doesn't realize it yet.

"We're excited about what we've been able to do as a family, to be a part of it," Gibbs said. "Hopefully we can pass it on to our grandkids. I'm excited about building it for that."

The JGR operation already has far surpassed what he had hoped it might become back in 1992.

"I had no idea. I was just hoping we could have a car and survive. And after that first year, I was seriously questioning whether we could even make that happen," he said.

Gibbs, 72, joked on Monday that no one should become an owner in NASCAR to try to get rich. He noted that being a driver "really is the only way to go -- because they get half the winnings, one-third of the souvenir sales and a salary."

Then he laughed again. It's clear he's had -- and continues to have -- a great time in his second career.

He just needs a little help to see where it might lead him in the end. He's already the only coach in NFL history to win three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. Someday he'll likely be the only football coach in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.