Ol’ Yogi Berra once famously said, "It ain’t over till it’s over."
In this case, he’s wrong.
It’s over, but not officially over. Trust us on that. Not until early in November will 20-year-old Ty Gibbs be officially named NASCAR’s 2023 Cup Series Rookie of the Year. But no matter that this is just August … it’s over and has been for a while.
Even before Noah Gragson lost his ride early this month (he was the only other rookie candidate), Gibbs was well on his way to removing all doubt. The grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs clearly outperformed Gragson throughout the two-thirds of the season and now has no challengers over the year’s final 11 races, including this weekend’s Coke Zero 400 in Daytona Beach.
The numbers tell it all: Gibbs beat the Legacy Motor Club driver in 15 of the first 17 races they faced each other. (Gragson missed Sonoma in June because of an illness). Gibbs then beat him in three of the next four and had built a near-insurmountable lead when Gragson was suspended and then lost his ride in July for an insensitive reply to an offensive social media post. All told, Gibbs beat Gragson 18 times in the 21 races they ran together, averaging about 10 finish-positions better per-race.
The reigning Xfinity Series champion is the third ROTY in the 32 years of Joe Gibbs Racing. Three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart won the award in 1999 and Denny Hamlin was the 2006 ROTY. Gibbs brought an impressive resume to Cup: 2021 Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year; 2021 ARCA Menard champion; 2022 Xfinity champion; 11 career Xfinity victories (plus one this year); and 18 ARCA victories.
As recently as Richmond in July—it turned out to be Gragson’s last start—Gibbs was more worried about his No. 54 Toyota team’s progress than anything off-track. “I guess it’s a cool award to win, but I’m just focusing on me and trying to get better each week,” he said before beating Gragson by 13 positions in the 400-lapper at Richmond Raceway. “Really, I haven’t thought much about it. I’m not aware of what he’s doing or where he’s running during each race, just about what I’m doing.
“I know I have a lot to learn and there’s a lot of racing to go, so it hasn’t been a big thing in my mind. Of course, I’d rather have it than not, but I’d rather be winning races. Winning Rookie of the Year or not winning it isn’t going to change my life. I don’t think much about it either way.”
Even after Gragson left the tour and the issue was (unofficially) settled, Gibbs seemed more concerned with his progress than with the award he is assured of winning. “My focus right now is trying to win at Daytona and putting the Monster Energy Toyota team in the Playoffs,” he said. “But if it works out at the end of the year that we’re rookie of the year, that’s a special award.
“But it’s not just for me, it’s for everybody on the 54 team and everyone back at the shop. It’s a team effort; we’ve run well this year. We want to run well every week. That’s always been our focus.”
There’s no longer any ROTY pressure, but Gibbs should know that 13 former rookie award winners have gone on to become Cup Series champions, from Richard Petty in 1959 to Chase Elliott in 2016.
But like we said… no pressure, kid.