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Hall of Fame Inductee: Joe Gibbs

This is the final of a five-part series in advance of the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, Jan. 31. Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage starting at 8 p.m. (ET) with live streaming at MRN.com.

Joe Gibbs took his success of being a three-time Super Bowl champion coach to form a multiple championship winning team in NASCAR.

Winning starts with people and Gibbs was able to work with the best to achieve the highest honor in both sports. After being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996, Gibbs will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 31 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Joe Gibbs And Bobby Labante
Photo: ISC Archives

“When I moved over here (NASCAR) what was really interesting for me was how it was so close to football and it is…because it’s people,” Gibbs said. “In football you have to have a great quarterback or you are not going anywhere and over here you have to have a great driver or you are not going anywhere. In football you have to have the coach and over here you have to have the crew chief. Then it’s teamwork and team people. It’s working with people. The bottom line in both sports for me is work with your people, pick the right people, which is extremely hard.”

Gibbs will join two of his former drivers that helped put his team on the map in the Class of 2020 – Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart, who combined to win three Cup titles for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Along with the May 22, 2019 announcement that he would be joining the Hall of Fame, Gibbs’ latest chapter of his continuing illustrious NASCAR career came when Kyle Busch captured his second title and fifth overall for JGR at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In that race, Gibbs had three of the four cars in the Championship 4 and was up against Stewart’s team and driver Kevin Harvick.

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“It means a lot to me,” Stewart said last November about his team being able to race against Gibbs’ team for the title. “Like I say, at the beginning of the season you don’t know who you’re going to be sitting up here with. It could be three other owners and this year it’s unique and it’s the one guy that I’ve spent a lot of time with and I think the world of. To be able to compete against him for a championship is a really cool deal.

“Everything with the Hall of Fame, all of its really special to be doing a lot of this with Joe.”

For Gibbs being in NASCAR is special because he’s able to share it with his family. His son, J.D., who passed away on Jan. 11, 2019 following a long battle with a degenerative neurological disease, played a huge part of getting JGR where it is today.

“Today it’s Coy (Gibbs) and I as a family business, but I think back to J.D. spending 27 years of his occupational life building a race team. The fact that it’s such a thrill being a part of this, but this really honors all those people that built our race team.”

The latest championship season started with Denny Hamlin, who J.D. discovered and brought to JGR in 2004, winning the team’s third Daytona 500 in a 1-2-3 finish for JGR. Busch then capped the season off by leading another 1-2-3 finish for JGR in the season finale to give the organization its 19 win in 2019 – the most by a single team in the modern era.

“Everybody that worked at Joe Gibbs Racing, when J.D. left us, I think each and every one of them felt that so much,” Gibbs said. “I think they devoted this year to him and kind of everything. I know Coy and all of us did family wise, and so I just want to say a thanks to thank everybody.

“It was emotional all year. I felt like I could feel J.D. all year, and it’s kind of hard to put in words. But it’s been special and different, and it was great to finish it up the way we did.”

Dale Jarrett And Joe Gibbs
Photo: ISC Archives

Gibbs started his NASCAR team back in 1992 with just 17 people. After a rocky start it took Joe Gibbs Racing only 30 races to reach Victory Lane and it came with Dale Jarrett, who was part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame 2014 class.

“Our first year we couldn’t get anywhere,” Gibbs said. “It was really a tough, long hard year. All of us are kind of second guessing do we belong here or is it too big for us. That second year, the Daytona 500 when Dale Jarrett won. J.D., being a good athlete, we had him changing tires on the car. For us to win that race I remember the boys rolling in the infield on the grass. We wound up at Steak ‘n Shake with the trophy and taking photos with fans all night.”

The tradition of Gibbs and the Harley J. Earl trophy making its return to Steak ‘n Shake down the street from the Daytona International Speedway continued in 2016 and 2019 following Hamlin’s wins in “The Great American Race.”

Gibbs credits being able to land Jimmy Makar when forming JGR to be able to attract great drivers.

“Our best chance to recruit somebody was because we had Jimmy Makar as a crew chief,” Gibbs said. “Jimmy gambled right off the bat. We didn’t have a driver we didn’t have anything. He gambled and came with us and I think it gave us creditability to people like Bobby and others that were willing to step into our race team. We will always be indebted to Jimmy and he’s still with us. We are going on 28 years together.”

Over the last 28 years, 10 different drivers have combined to win 176 NASCAR Cup Series races for JGR, with Martin Truex Jr. being the last – winning seven times in 2019. JGR also has won two driver titles and five owners championships in the Xfinity Series.

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