Could Kurt Busch’s Uncertain Status Cost Ty Gibbs the Xfinity Series Championship?

The double-duty weekends Ty Gibbs has been logging undoubtedly will help him when he earns his full-time NASCAR Cup Series ride, whether that’s next year or in 2024.

Sure, Xfinity Series racing is a good training ground for the next level, but nothing can match running live laps in a Cup Series car. The experience is especially helpful because it closes the knowledge gap on full-time drivers who are all new to the Next Gen car.

However, Gibbs’ real job is to drive those Xfinity cars for his grandfather’s team and follow through on the promise he showed as a rookie to win a championship. There’s a legitimate question as to whether subbing for Kurt Busch on Sundays will hurt Gibbs on Saturdays when we get to the Xfinity playoffs.

Ty Gibbs has been subbing for Kurt Busch at 23XI Racing

Ty Gibbs waits on the grid during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway on Aug. 13, 2022, in Richmond, Virginia. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Ty Gibbs waits on the grid during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway on Aug. 13, 2022, in Richmond, Virginia. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Kurt Busch has been out of the No. 45 Toyota in the NASCAR Cup Series since a wreck in qualifying at Pocono left him with concussion-like symptoms on July 23. Busch owns a win at Kansas and stood 14th in points at the time of the wreck, but the first three absences dropped him to 20th heading to Sunday’s race at Richmond and left the 2004 series champion at risk of missing the playoffs.

Busch drives for 23XI Racing, which scrambled when Busch crashed at Pocono. There are only two Toyota teams in the Cup Series, and the manufacturer doesn’t have extraordinary depth in the two other national NASCAR circuits. Lacking a lot of options, 23XI reached out to Joe Gibbs Racing and called in Ty Gibbs, who thought he was done for the weekend after placing second in the Xfinity race.

Gibbs made his Cup Series debut with 15th place on short notice at Pocono, took 17th the following week on the Indianapolis road course, and then scored a 10th-place showing at Michigan. Smoke from under the hood ended his day midway through the afternoon at Richmond.

Could Kurt Busch’s uncertain status hurt Ty Gibbs?

Though it’s less common now because of limits on Cup Series drivers dropping down to the Xfinity Series, there are competitors pulling the same double-duty routine as Ty Gibbs weekend. With AJ Allmendinger, Noah Gragson, and Daniel Hemric sharing a Kaulig Racing car in the Cup Series while racing full-time in the Xfinity Series, at least one doubles up weekly.

Gibbs is young and gets plenty of sleep, so fatigue isn’t a concern unless it’s an exceptionally warm weekend. And considering how well he’s been performing during his battlefield promotion, there’s little concern about doubling up for another month.

However, the Xfinity Series, which had this weekend off, begins its playoffs Sept. 24 at Texas Motor Speedway. Gibbs is a solid third and within reach of Allmendinger and Justin Allgaier as those three, Noah Gragson, and Josh Berry claw for every possible playoff point over the last five regular-season races.

So, what happens if Kurt Busch’s condition doesn’t sufficiently improve? Gibbs is handling the job – he finished eighth in the Indianapolis Xfinity race and won at Michigan – but one has to wonder whether about the long-term effect of extra duty in the simulator and qualifying Cup cars on Saturdays before suiting up for Xfinity races.

The real test begins at Texas Motor Speedway

With its smaller championship field, the Xfinity Series playoffs begin at Texas Motor Speedway three weeks after the Cup Series kicks off at Darlington. Between now and then, Ty Gibbs and the other Xfinity contenders will be looking to build up playoff points that could carry them to the Championship 4 at Phoenix.

Meantime, there are no playoff implications for Gibbs in the Cup Series. Owner points are meaningful to 23XI Racing, but neither Gibbs nor Kurt Busch can earn driver points.

Once the Xfinity Series playoffs begin, and arguably even before that, the wise move might be to take Gibbs out of the Cup Series car. That would allow him to put all his focus on the Xfinity championship. Earning that title a month after his 20th birthday would be a huge accomplishment, further signal his readiness to move up full-time, and make him even more attractive to sponsors.

On the other hand, Joe Gibbs Racing would be vulnerable to second-guessing (fair or otherwise) if Gibbs somehow struggles to continue transferring through the rounds of the Xfinity playoffs and make the Championship 4.

Surely, JGR and 23XI must have a contingency plan to continue filling in for Busch in place by now.

All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.

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