Hamlin pleased with Ty Gibbs, remains “concerned” about Kurt Busch

Denny Hamlin naturally remains concerned about Kurt Busch’s recovery from a crash that left him with concussion-like symptoms, but he’s praising Ty Gibbs’s job as the 23XI Racing substitute driver.

On Sunday at Richmond Raceway Busch will miss his fourth straight race as he continues to deal with concussion-like symptoms from his July 23 qualifying crash at Pocono Raceway.

Busch has been around his team at the shop and putting himself in high-energy environments like a Charlotte FC soccer match and a Cubs baseball game, but the 2004 series champion is not yet driving ready.

Earlier this week Busch posted on social media that he was not ready to get back in a car after putting his body through a race simulation.

“It’s concerning for sure,” Hamlin said on Saturday. “Mostly concerning for his health, not really for the race team.

“We want to give him all the time he needs, and this is proof that he’s doing his doing right by his body and making sure he’s back to 100%.

“I think that other drivers in the past probably maybe would have just kind of been able to get some tests passed and gone out there and race. But he wants to be 100% because no one race or season or whatever it be is as important as your overall health and long term.”

Hamlin acknowledged that contingency plans for 2023 are being worked on if Busch cannot return to competition.

“We’re always thinking about it. We’re as forward-thinking as you can possibly be as a race team,” Hamlin said. “But ultimately, we are not, and we can’t rush Kurt’s health, but we always are trying to come up with contingency plans based off of any other scenario that might get thrown our way.”

Gibbs has driven the No.45 Toyota in Busch’s absence. The grandson of NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner Joe Gibbs has been impressive with three straight top-20 finishes and keeping the car in one piece. Gibbs has run on three different tracks in his first three races, from Pocono to the Indianapolis road course and the fast Michigan International Speedway.

In all three starts, Gibbs has finished all the laps, and on the lead lap – he even led for two laps a week ago. Gibbs, who is a full-time championship contender in the Xfinity Series, enters Richmond off a 10th-place finish in Michigan, which is his best Cup Series result to date.

“I think he’s done a good job for sure,” Hamlin said. “I think he certainly realizes the fence between Xfinity and Cup is a big old tall one. These guys over here don’t mess around too much and so it’s tough.

“I think he’s done really good considering of what we’ve asked him to do, and that’s keep his nose clean, keep that 45 car in a good position in the owner’s playoffs. That’s really important for us financially. So it’s important, and he’s really done a good job for us to do that.

“And then he took a fast car last week, obviously made a mistake late in that race, but he took it and he maximized his day. So I think he did a really good job and certainly, we’re happy with the job he’s been doing for us thus far.”