Thanks to Tony Stewart’s NASCAR Cup Series championships in 2005 and 2002, along with Bobby Labonte’s title run in 2000, Joe Gibbs has three NASCAR championship rings to offset the three Super Bowl rings he earned as head coach of the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Gibbs led the Redskins to four Super Bowl appearances and three championships, while garnering Associated Press Coach of the Year honors in back-to-back seasons in 1982 and 1983.
And as Gibbs enters his 16th year as a NASCAR team owner in 2007, he does so while prowling the NFL sidelines in his second coming as the Redskins’ head coach. After an 11-year hiatus, Gibbs returned to the Redskins in January 2004, and just as he did when he started Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in the spring of 1991, Gibbs performs double-duty as a NASCAR team owner and head coach of the Washington Redskins.
“It’s a thrill to be back, and when the opportunity presented itself to return to the Redskins, the timing was right,” said Gibbs, who first retired from football following the 1992 NFL season. “JGR is well established, with a solid management team that’s been in place for years. Proof of that is the championship we earned in 2005. But rest assured, I remain personally committed to the race team and each and every sponsor who supports our many employees.”
Commitment is nothing new to Gibbs. While his career as a NASCAR team owner began in 1991, his football calling came when Gibbs graduated from San Diego State University in 1964, whereupon he proved himself as a successful assistant football coach in the NCAA and NFL ranks for 17 years. So successful was Gibbs that in 1981 he was named head coach of the Washington Redskins. By 1983, Gibbs was enjoying his first Super Bowl victory, with two more to follow in 1988 and 1992.
But even with all that success from his team on the gridiron, the lure of success from a team on the race track pulled at Gibbs. That’s why he ventured into NASCAR, with JGR making its first NASCAR start in the 1992 Daytona 500.
It took nine years for Gibbs to see dividends from that leap of faith, but three times in the past seven seasons it has been the man frequently called “Coach” who has accepted the accolades as championship team owner.
“The thing that has always amazed me about championship runs in pro sports, at least in the three I’ve been involved with here and the three I had in the NFL, is how hard they are and how different they are, and that one year doesn’t buy you the next,” said Gibbs. “I love that about pro sports. It’s why I’m here.”
But Gibbs isn’t content to just be “here.” After running only the No. 18 team since the time JGR was founded, Gibbs saw that the motorsports landscape was changing. Multi-car teams were becoming more prevalent and more successful than their single-car counterparts. Enter Stewart, crew chief Greg Zipadelli and sponsor Home Depot.
In 1999, this group burst onto the NASCAR Cup scene, with Stewart becoming the winningest rookie in series history, taking three checkered flags en route to the Rookie of the Year title and a fourth-place position in the championship point standings. Thanks in large part to the coaching administered by the young and talented Zipadelli, the No. 20 team proved itself worthy of being a championship contender in just its first year of existence.
In 2000, the No. 18 team of Labonte and the No. 20 team of Stewart proved to be a formidable one-two punch. The two drivers combined to win 10 of the series’ 34 races, with Labonte winning four events and Stewart taking six. Labonte’s consistency proved to be unparalleled, as he took his first career NASCAR Cup Series championship. Stewart, meanwhile, won two more races than anyone else on the circuit, and finished a solid sixth in the season-ending point standings.
The 2001 season was another solid year for Gibbs, with his two drivers collecting a total of five wins. Labonte wound up sixth in points, while a late-season run by Stewart enabled him to finish the season in the runner-up spot to championship winner Jeff Gordon.
That laid the groundwork for Stewart’s championship season in 2002, which saw the Indiana native score three wins en route to his first NASCAR title. Labonte, the quintessential teammate, scored a victory as well.
“I think the addition of Tony and Greg and the entire Home Depot team was a major reason why Bobby won the championship in 2000,” said Gibbs. “And I think Bobby and Jimmy Makar (former No. 18 crew chief and current senior vice president of racing) were a big help in Tony and Greg’s championship.
“Had you asked me what my thoughts were on having a multi-car team a few years back, I would’ve said that it would probably work, but at the same time, I was still a bit nervous about the undertaking of a multi-car operation,” continued Gibbs, who in late 2004 announced the formation of a third Cup team – the No. 11 – which earned the 2006 Rookie of the Year title with Denny Hamlin at the wheel.
“People may question our philosophy, but our teams really do share all of their information. We have one race team with three cars being operated out of it. We’re not saying it’s the best way of running a race team, but it works well for us and our people.”
Stewart proved that point in 2005, where he won five races and scored more top-five and top-10 finishes and led more laps than any other Nextel Cup driver en route to the series’ championship.
The mighty three-car Gibbs enterprise didn’t happen overnight. The planning of this effort dates back to 1997, when Gibbs ran Stewart in five NASCAR Busch Series races. Stewart recorded one top-five and two top-10 finishes. All the while, he was busy wrapping up the IRL IndyCar Series championship. In 1998, Stewart ran 22 Busch Series races for JGR, again while running a full slate of IRL races. Nonetheless, Stewart quickly developed a feel for stock car racing, garnering two poles, two second-place finishes and five top-10 performances. The rest is history, with the success of the No. 20 team spurning a third car – the No. 11 – which first hit the race track in 2005.
But the pinnacle of NASCAR racing isn’t the only form of motorsports where Gibbs is involved.
From his eighth-year Busch Series stable, Gibbs runs third-year Busch Series driver Hamlin and rookie driver Aric Almirola in the No. 20 Chevrolet. And in the No. 18 Chevrolet, Gibbs divides driving duties between Almirola, Stewart and JGR newcomers Kevin Conway and Brad Coleman.
In Nextel Cup, Hamlin continues in his role as the driver of the No. 11, joining his sophomore teammate J.J. Yeley, who took over the vaunted No. 18 car at the start of 2006 after Labonte amicably departed JGR following the 2005 season. While speed and competition, whether on the race track or on the football field, are definitely passions for Gibbs, so too is helping out those around him.
Gibbs is the founder of Youth for Tomorrow, a home for troubled teens ages 14-18 in Bristow, Va. The foundation houses 40-60 children year-round, with an extensive staff that teaches, cares and instills in teens principles they can use to guide themselves when they leave the home. Over the years, Gibbs’ personal commitment and time at the home has turned hundreds of kids away from drugs, alcohol and crime, while demonstrating to them that they are each a valuable and important asset to this world.
Whether in racing or in coaching, Gibbs has also found a way to merge his competitive spirit with his love for family. A perfect example of that merger is having his son Coy, a former middle linebacker at Stanford University, join Gibbs on the Redskins coaching staff, while older brother, J.D., a former defensive back at William & Mary, enters his 10th year as president of JGR.
While currently residing near Redskins Park in Virginia, Gibbs makes his permanent home in Charlotte, N.C., with his wife Pat. He enjoys life as a grandfather, with the addition of Jackson Gibbs to the family in January 1998, Miller Gibbs in December 1999, Jason Dean Gibbs in August 2002, Ty Gibbs in October 2002, Elle Gibbs in April 2004 and Zachary Taylor Gibbs in October 2004. Jackson, Miller, Jason Dean and Zachary Taylor are the children of J.D. and his wife, Melissa. Ty and Elle are the children of Coy and Heather Gibbs.