Column: Bittersweet win for Logano as Gibbs family mourns

Published 11:55 pm Monday, November 7, 2022

By Jenna Fryer
AP Auto Racing Writer

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Joey Logano began his career at Joe Gibbs Racing, which signed him to a driver development deal when he was 15, and then put “Sliced Bread” in a NASCAR national series race seven days after his 18th birthday.

There was a plan to develop Logano, but it was scrapped when JGR fast-tracked him to Cup after just 19 Xfinity Series starts because Hall of Famer Tony Stewart left ahead of the 2009 season.

Logano wasn’t ready for the big leagues, and JGR let him go after four rocky Cup seasons.

He landed at Team Penske and on Sunday won his second Cup championship with his victory at Phoenix Raceway in the NASCAR season finale. He joins Kyle Busch, his former teammate at Gibbs, as the only active NASCAR drivers with multiple Cup titles.

Logano earned both of his titles with Penske, and all of his success was achieved long after his Gibbs dismissal. That didn’t make Sunday any less conflicting for Logano, who learned shortly before the start of the race that Coy Gibbs, vice chairman at JGR, had died in his sleep hours after watching his 20-year-old son, Ty Gibbs, win the Xfinity Series championship.

“It’s such an interesting spot as you sit there preparing to run a championship race and then you hear. I don’t have words to explain how that is,” Logano said. “I feel for Ty more than anything. When you take all the championship racing stuff out, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. It’s great that we’re up here and we won a championship, but something happens to your family, it doesn’t matter.”

Logano said Gibbs’ passing made for a somber season finale for the entire industry, and he grappled with the grief his former team owner must be experiencing. Joe Gibbs, both an NFL and NASCAR Hall of Famer, has now lost both of his children; J.D. Gibbs died in 2019 from degenerative neurological disease, and both brothers died roughly a month before their 50th birthdays.

“It’s a bittersweet type of thing because here we are winning a championship, and one of the people that’s a leader in our sport and someone I’ve known for a while is gone,” Logano said. “Our prayers and thoughts go to the Gibbs family and everyone over at JGR. They’ve had a rough run at it, I couldn’t imagine how Joe feels right now. But for Ty to lose his dad, that’s just hard.”

Logano’s emotions were about more than just his past relationship with the Gibbs family and their race team. He had spent much of the week leading into the championship races defending Ty Gibbs, who was maligned for wrecking JGR teammate Brandon Jones from the lead on the final lap of a race Jones had to win to race for the Xfinity title.

The incident caused a deep divide at JGR and Toyota, and both Joe Gibbs and Coy Gibbs seemed weary leading into Saturday’s finale of discussing how to handle their budding star who happens to be family. Joe Gibbs promised consequences for his grandson, who is expected to be named the replacement Cup driver for Busch now that Busch’s 15-year run at JGR has ended.

Even after Ty Gibbs made it through the week with a humbling apology tour and then delivered in the finale by holding off rival Noah Gragson for the championship, his father was still navigating the storm his son had created a week earlier.

“When you start this day, I’m kind of like, ‘I just want to get this day over with.’ That was my mindset, because I want to move on and get past it,” Coy Gibbs said after his son won the title Saturday night.

“I’m definitely proud of him. I’ve always got his back as his father. Obviously it’s heartbreaking to go through tough stuff and watch, it’s actually more heartbreaking to watch him go through it. I don’t give a rip; I’m old and don’t care. But to see a kid hurting — and he knows he screwed up; and to go through all that, it’s tough. It’s tough as a parent for sure.”

Hours later, Coy Gibbs passed away in his sleep.

Logano could relate to Ty Gibbs’ uncomfortable position leading into the race because Logano himself made his share of silly mistakes as he struggled with the spotlight in his early NASCAR years.

“We’ve all done stupid things when we were kids. Every one of us, right?” Logano said earlier in the week. “I can’t say I agree with much that he did or said, but I also have some sympathy in saying, ‘Man, I’ve been there, I get it.’ It’s the life that I chose. It’s the life that Ty is choosing.”

But it also hit Logano because unlike 2018 when he won his first championship and had only an infant son, he’s now a father of three and at 32 years old was the veteran of the championship four. Logano brought 4-year-old son, Hudson, to Phoenix and has spent the last several weeks reading car magazines to his son as bedtime stories and promising a big fun party when Daddy won the Cup title.

Logano got to take Hudson up the track to collect the checkered flag and the little boy was skipping as he clung to his father’s hand. Then Hudson got a ride in the No. 22 Ford to the championship stage.

As Logano celebrated with his son, he was cognizant that the Gibbs family was not at the track and mourning the loss of a son, husband and father.

“That just goes to prove that you’ve got to cherish every moment in life. You don’t know when the next one happens. You don’t know when your number is called,” Logano said. “Hudson and I, like he’s my oldest and we have a connection.

“He’s just a little me. I see so much of me in him. I always dreamed of winning with him here because I always wanted to take him for a ride. To see him smiling and celebrate the moment together, it’s truly the most awesome feeling.”