The student becomes the teacher: Bubba Wallace thrust into the mentor role with Ty Gibbs, sort of

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA - JULY 24: Ty Gibbs, driver of the #45 McDonald's Toyota, (L) and Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 DoorDash Toyota, talk on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series M&M's Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 24, 2022 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

In his rise to stardom, Bubba Wallace has had mentorship from some of the greatest minds in all of NASCAR. First with Richard Petty whose team he raced for from 2018 to 2020, then this year with NASCAR champion and veteran driver Kurt Busch who was hired by 23XI Racing this season.

Suddenly however, the mentee has become a mentor of sorts.

Kurt Busch crashed during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He wasn’t medically cleared to race the next day at Pocono Raceway and the team scrambled to get a replacement driver. That replacement turned out to be Ty Gibbs, a 19-year-old driver in the NASCAR Xfinity series and grandson of Joe Gibbs whose team provides support to 23XI. The young Gibbs made his Cup debut at Pocono finishing a respectable 18th which became a 16th place after the two top finishers, Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin (co-owner of 23XI Racing) and Kyle Busch, were disqualified in post-race inspection.

Wednesday 23XI announced that Kurt has yet to be cleared giving Gibbs the seat for his second Cup series start Sunday on the road course at Indy.

It’s really the first time that Wallace has had a younger driver to talk to, and to mentor. Though, he admits they haven’t really talked all that much as the series heads to the road course this weekend. Gibbs started fifth in last years Xfinity race on the Indy Road Course and finished 19th.

“Actually, I ran into Ty in the SIM yesterday and he was putting in the work to figure it out,” Wallace told me Thursday. “But I hadn’t really talked to him much about what to expect.”

They did meet up the weekend prior. And Wallace said he did have some advice for him.

“I ran into him right before the race of Pocono and just told him to be aware of everything,” Wallace said. “Because this is the top of the top.

“Keep a realistic expectation for yourself, you know, bring all your strength to the playing field, be ready for them to be altered a little bit because these guys you’re going up against are the best.

“It was good to see Ty get a good run; obviously doing his job to fill in for Kurt while he gets healthy again and make most of the opportunity.”

Ty Gibbs ‘very thankful’ after top-20 finish in his unexpected Cup debut at Pocono

This weekend, Wallace will have a chance to impart more knowledge to the young Gibbs. Though with the shortened weekends in NASCAR, no drivers spend a great deal of time together.

“Our pit stalls going to be right next to each other,” he said. “We’ll be able to talk about some things, but the way the practice schedule is now, it’s kind of hard to get that briefing going on like during practice or before qualifying.

“We’ll find some time to set aside and talk about what’s going on to be better and better ourselves up for the race.”

Wallace of course, has his own race to run this weekend. He’s been competitive most of the season and especially the last two weeks. He comes into Indy with a top five and a top 10 finish in the last two races.

“The speed that we’ve been showing these last couple weeks, it’s been the same we’ve had all year,” Wallace said. “We’re just now putting a full race together and that’s one of the most important steps at the Cup level, any level, is putting a full race together, getting the finishes that you deserve and that you need.”

In the two road courses run this season, Sonoma and Road America, however, he’s finished 23rd.

“For our road course stuff, man, we’ve had stuff, problems,” he said. “We had brake problems. So, we haven’t had the finishes that we deserve.”

Last year at Indy, Wallace finished, 23rd. It almost seems as though he and the team are stuck in a cycle to road courses. One he hopes will end Sunday.

“Hopefully we can break that cycle,” he said.

“For me the road courses are getting better and better,” Wallace said. “I’ve been putting into work, you know, Booty (crew chief Booty Barker) and the team have done a really good job of getting the cars better for me and giving me something to drive and I relate to and get feedback on to make even better than that. So, it should be a good weekend for us.”


Greg Engle