PENSACOLA, Fla. – Ty Gibbs will look to continue Joe Gibbs Racing’s hot start to the season with a victory in his ARCA Menards Series debut on Saturday.

The 16-year-old son of Coy Gibbs and grandson of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs will take to the track in the ARCA Pensacola 200 presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions at Five Flags Speedway.

Ty Gibbs will drive the No. 18 Monster Energy/ORCA Coolers Toyota in all the ARCA short track races this season, while 2017 Bounty Rookie of the Year Riley Herbst will take the wheel at the series’ superspeedway races.

While the most talked-about moment of JGR’s early hot streak has been Denny Hamlin’s second victory in the Daytona 500, that race was actually the second big win of the season for the Gibbs organization.

The first was earned by Ty Gibbs, who scored a late model stock car victory at Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina.

“We’re obviously excited to get to Five Flags and get my season started,” Gibbs said. “But we’re equally excited to get to all of the tracks we’re going to race at this season. They’re all different and every one of them has their own challenges. Mark (McFarland, crew chief) has told me a lot about all of them.”

While the on-track start to the season has been a positive one for JGR, off the track it was one of the more difficult offseasons for the team.

In January, the team’s co-founder and Coach Gibbs’ eldest son J.D. Gibbs passed away after struggling with a degenerative neurological disease for the past several years. In spite of their loss, JGR banded together and has never lost focus on the task at hand.

Of note, not only does Gibbs have the entirety of the JGR organization behind him, he also has last year’s ARCA Menards Series championship-winning car owner – Mark McFarland – serving as his crew chief.

“It’s a lot less stress this year than last year, for sure,” McFarland said, referring to his championship run as a team co-owner at MDM Motorsports. “I am back to having fun. I enjoy being a crew chief. Once I transitioned from driving to being a crew chief, I really came to enjoy working with these young drivers. It’s fun to see these guys figure things out in two or three races that might have taken me a couple years to learn.”

McFarland has only been to Five Flags Speedway twice, both as a crew chief. In 2014, the team he led took Ben Rhodes to victory lane in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race, and he is optimistic Gibbs can give him his second trip to victory lane at the famed half-mile.

“Ty has a lot of talent and a lot of speed,” McFarland said. “It’s been a pleasure to come to work here and get to go test with him and see how quickly he picks things up. I have only worked with (teammate) Riley Herbst at Daytona, and there’s not really much to do to make the car any faster once you’re there, so I am looking forward to the chance to go testing and racing with him later on in the season too.”

Throwback 276
Ty Gibbs (11) battles Jared Fryar during CARS Late Model Stock Tour action at Hickory Motor Speedway in 2017. (Adam Fenwick photo)

Gibbs has been piloting full-bodied stock cars for a couple of seasons after starting his racing career in outlaw karts at Millbridge Speedway.

Now, he’s found some success in the late model stock car division, and has tested the ARCA car several times ahead of his first career start.

“The biggest difference between the late models I am used to and the ARCA car is it takes a totally different style of driving,” Gibbs said. “We’ve tested a few times so I’ve had a chance to get used to it. My dad (Coy Gibbs) helps me out whenever we go to a new track. He’s always giving me pointers on how to get around a track we’ve never been to before.”

Gibbs doesn’t feel any pressure to perform from his famous grandfather, either.

“He loves to see all of us out here having fun,” Gibbs said. “There’s no pressure from him at all. We’re one big family here and he wants to see his kids and his grandkids go out and have fun.”