Cue the Comparisons Between Sammy Smith and Ty Gibbs

Sammy Smith is a quick learner in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In fact, he’s found Victory Lane at a younger age than anyone except Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, and Ty Gibbs. Not bad for an 18-year-old who’s still in high school.

“Someone told me that, and that’s pretty cool to join those guys as the winners as 18-year-olds,” Smith said Tuesday on Fox’s NASCAR Race Hub. “Hopefully we can keep it going and keep racking up more wins. It’s definitely been a dream come true this year.”

At the rate he’s going, Smith could arrive in the Cup Series almost as quickly as Gibbs. It’s only fitting since the two Joe Gibbs Racing competitors are on track to be compared to each other throughout their careers.

Sammy Smith broke through Sunday with a win at Phoenix Raceway

Sammy Smith celebrates after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series United Rentals 200 at Phoenix Raceway on March 11, 2023. | Meg Oliphant/Getty Images
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Sammy Smith celebrates after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series United Rentals 200 at Phoenix Raceway on March 11, 2023. | Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Sammy Smith was 14 when he scored his first two top-10 finishes in CARS Late Model Stock Tour races. That made for a transition into the CARS Pro Late Model Tour, where he scored his first win in 2021 at Jennerstown Speedway in Pennsylvania against a field including Josh Berry, Corey Heim, and Garrett Smithley.

By then, however, Smith was also already winning races in the ARCA Menards Series in cars owned by Coy Gibbs, the son of JRG owner Joe Gibbs and father of driver Ty Gibbs. With Smith rolling toward his second straight ARCA Menards East championship last season, Toyota wanted to see what he could do in the Xfinity Series.

Smith made nine starts, scoring three top-10 finishes. With Gibbs promoted to the NASCAR Cup Series and Brandon Jones signing with JR Motorsports, JGR moved Smith into a full-time Xfinity slot. It didn’t take long for the move to pay off; Smith won at Phoenix Raceway in the fourth race of the season.

Ty Gibbs rose rapidly through the ranks

In light of his family’s place in the sport, it was always a given that Ty Gibbs would rise through the ranks quickly as long as he performed.

Like Sammy Smith, he was already driving in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour Series as a 14-year-old in 2017. Two years later, Gibbs won his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series and ARCA Menards races.

Gibbs truly outdid himself in 2021 when his grandfather gave the driver a half-season schedule in the Xfinity Series in the insanely good No. 54 Toyota. Making his debut on the Daytona road course, Gibbs won over a field whose top five include Austin Cindric, Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, and Jeb Burton. By year’s end, he won three more times.

Last season, Gibbs won seven races and the season championship while also spending the second half of the year as the fill-in for Kurt Busch in the Cup Series. He managed just one top-10 result there, but merely competing at that level before turning 20 speaks volumes of his potential.

This season, he is full-time in the No. 54 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Cup Series team.

The timing of Sammy Smith’s next step is uncertain

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If he’s going to keep pace with Ty Gibbs as far as career timelines go, Sammy Smith will need to win a bunch of Xfinity Series races – not to mention the championship – in 2023. Gibbs graduated to the NASCAR Cup Series with 11 wins in 51 starts.

Obviously, that’s asking a lot. And, even if he produces at a high level this year, the issue becomes how soon Toyota can find a spot for him in the top-tier series. There are only two Toyota teams in the Cup Series, and Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are the only candidates to depart anytime soon.

Even the role of fill-in driver that Gibbs took on last year probably wouldn’t be available right now. Should one of the Toyota drivers be sidelined, Kurt Busch could conceivably fill the seat. If not Busch, then John Hunter Nemechek, JGR’s other full-time Xfinity driver, would be the logical candidate based upon his more extensive experience.

If that mean’s waiting until he’s 21 or 22 years old before Smith gets his first taste of the Cup series, that’s still impressive.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected]