Joe Gibbs Racing announced Tuesday that Xfinity Series champion Ty Gibbs will move to the NASCAR Cup Series full-time next season, taking the roster spot left open by Kyle Busch and marking the next step in his speedy ascent to stock-car racing’s major leagues.
Gibbs is set to drive the No. 54 Toyota for the team owned by his grandfather, Coach Joe Gibbs. The 20-year-old driver will bring the car number he campaigned in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with him, marking a departure from the No. 18 that’s been with the JGR organization since its Cup Series debut in 1992. Although Gibbs will be in the No. 54 car, Joe Gibbs Racing intends to use the No. 18 in the Cup Series in future years.
Chris Gayle, who served as crew chief during Gibbs’ championship season, will move with him to serve as crew chief in the Cup Series.
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Gibbs has excelled at each stage of his rapid climb up the NASCAR ladder. He concluded the season as a seven-time winner this year in the Xfinity Series, capping his first full season of Xfinity competition with a title-clinching victory at Phoenix Raceway. That triumph was marked by tragedy with the death of his father, Coy Gibbs, in the overnight hours just after his Phoenix win.
In parts of two Xfinity seasons, he’s already won 11 times, including prevailing in his series debut in 2021 at Daytona International Speedway’s road course. But Gibbs also made an unplanned jump to the Cup Series this year, filling in with 23XI Racing — a JGR affiliate — when former series champion Kurt Busch was sidelined by a concussion after a crash during qualifying on July 23 at Pocono Raceway.
Gibbs was pressed into duty for his Cup Series debut the next day, and he filled in for Busch in 15 races the rest of the year. He withdrew from the Cup season finale after his father’s death.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s high-profile vacancy on its four-car team officially opened Sept. 13, when Kyle Busch and Richard Childress Racing announced they would join forces, starting next season. The move ended a partnership that dated back to 2008, a long-running union that produced two Cup Series championships and 56 of Busch’s 60 career wins.
The younger Gibbs’ rise to NASCAR’s top level has been marked by success and a dab of controversy. Even as he nearly immediately rounded into a consistent challenger for Xfinity Series wins on a part-time schedule last season, Gibbs cruised to a championship in the ARCA Menards Series, prevailing in 10 of the 20 races in 2021. He’s an 18-time winner on that circuit, and he also has multiple victories in each of the two ARCA regional tours.
Gibbs’ aggressive nature has helped him land in Victory Lane, but it’s also ruffled some of his competitors. He was assessed a behavioral penalty and fined $15,000 in April for making contact with Sam Mayer’s car on pit road after an Xfinity race at Martinsville Speedway. That disagreement led to fisticuffs between the two. On the Cup Series side, Gibbs also angrily bumped alongside Ty Dillon’s car on pit road during a Sept. 25 race at Texas Motor Speedway, drawing scrutiny and a $75,000 fine for unsafe driving near race officials and pit-crew personnel.
The controversy came to a head in the Xfinity Series’ penultimate race, when Gibbs bumped teammate Brandon Jones into a last-lap crash at Martinsville Speedway. The maneuver denied another JGR driver from making the Championship 4 field, and a repentant Gibbs apologized for the move.
Gibbs drove the No. 18 during his ARCA successes, flying the car number that his grandfather used when he created Joe Gibbs Racing as a single-car outfit with Dale Jarrett as his driver 31 years ago. As an Xfinity regular, though, he established his own identity with the No. 54.
The last time the No. 18 was not in regular rotation in the NASCAR Cup Series was 1991. JGR drivers account for all but one of the car number’s 80 wins — Marvin Burke was the first, winning in his only Cup appearance in 1951. Three of JGR’s five Cup Series championships have come with the No. 18 — Bobby Labonte’s 2000 title and the two crowns claimed by Kyle Busch (2015, 2019).
The No. 54 has not been used full-time in the Cup Series since 2003, when driver Todd Bodine paired with team owner Travis Carter. The No. 54 has won just three times in NASCAR’s top division, most recently in 1978 when Lennie Pond posted his only Cup Series win at Talladega Superspeedway.