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Ty Gibbs Falls One Spot Short of Maiden Cup Victory at Darlington

Photo Credit: Matthew T. Thacker, LAT for Toyota

It’s just a matter of time before Ty Gibbs breaks through for his first NASCAR Cup Series victory.

The 21-year-old driver came up just short once again in Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway, finishing runner-up to Brad Keselowski after making a spirited charge at the eventual race-winner in the closing laps of the event.

“I think I just honestly needed track position; that would be great. Getting out front before those guys started racing,” Gibbs said post-race. “It was really hard to pass today, and that middle is super, super slick and honestly really gummy and slick. It was just really hard to pass, and it’s just really important to keep track position.”

It’s a career-best for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who is currently contesting his second full-time campaign in the NASCAR Cup Series. Before Sunday, Gibbs had a best finish of third, twice, both of which came earlier this season at Phoenix and Circuit of The Americas (COTA).

At 21 years, 7 months, and 8 days old, Gibbs became the third-youngest driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to score a top-five finish at Darlington Raceway – behind only Banjo Matthews (1952) and Erik Jones (2017).

The result was certainly indicative of what was a strong showing from the No. 54 He Gets Us Toyota Camry XSE team, which after starting Sunday’s 400-mile contest from fourth place, collected 17 stage points and maintained an average running position inside the top-five.

Though at one point in the race’s final stage, things looked uncertain for Gibbs, after Chris Gayle brought the driver to pit road with 63 laps remaining, leaving the second-year driver on the border of running the final stage on a one-stop or two-stop strategy.

By short-pitting, Gibbs gained a significant amount of track position, jumping into third place, but was poised to start slipping down the running order as the run progressed, due to a significant deficit in tire life.

Then, Kyle Larson got added to the Gibbs family Christmas card mailing list, after a flat tire sent the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet spinning into the outside wall, drawing what would be the final caution of the event, with less than 40 to go.

After the restart, Gibbs settled into fourth, as the three-way battle for the victory between Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, and Brad Keselowski raged on ahead, which several laps later forced both Buescher and Reddick to make unscheduled pit stops for a flat tire after contact.

Suddenly, with less than 10 laps to go, Gibbs was running in second and reeling in Keselowski for the race lead, having been easier on his tires throughout the first 30 laps of the run. The gap closed to within a half-second, before dirty air caused the No. 54 to struggle, eliminating any forward progression.

“I feel like I need to get better at passing and driving in dirty air,” Gibbs added. “That is where I feel I lacked today. My care was really good. Still kind of fighting some numbers on balance, but I feel like we were really, really good.”

After a very strong start to 2024, which included three top-fives in the opening six races of the season, Gibbs has slipped from his ultra-consistent form, with Sunday’s Goodyear 500 marking just his second top-10 finish in the last seven weeks.

From at one time being in contention for the points lead, Gibbs has now dropped to seventh in NASCAR Cup Series point standings, albeit still a significant number of points above the post-season cutline, which is currently being guarded by fellow Toyota driver, Bubba Wallace.

As the series enters the ‘All-Star Break’, Gibbs is still in pursuit of his first win in the NASCAR Cup Series — and thus, is guaranteed to be competing in the All-Star Open on Saturday. However, barring a massive drop in performance during the second half of the regular season, things appear to be trending toward a post-season berth for Gibbs this Fall.

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