Gibbs is unique, and this was his weekend, a tribute to a man who has spent the past 39 years at the highest level of sports competition.
When I spoke to Wilson at a NASCAR press luncheon Thursday, he called Gibbs âa rainmaker,â marveling at the respect the 78-year-old commands in corporate America, and his ability to bring business leaders together.
âThereâs not a single person on that team that works harder than he does,â Wilson said Sunday. âHis work ethic, itâs stunning. Heâs usually the last guy at the shop. And when heâs not in the shop, heâs out and about, meeting with Toyotas and FedExes, and making sure his partners are getting what they need.â
âI look at Coach, and he leads by example,â said Truex, who is in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing. Everyone refers to Gibbs as âCoach.â
âYou look at somebody Joeâs age, and he could be out golfing and screwing off, and he probably doesnât have to be doing what heâs doing,â Truex continued. âBut he loves it, and itâs his passion. Itâs become his life, and he puts everything he has into it. I can tell you that every time I go to the shop, heâs there. And on a plane somewhere meeting with sponsors, heâs there.â
I asked Gibbs which of his two sports brought greater challenges, or greater fulfillment. He said it was hard to compare the two.
âI came up as the technical person in football,â he noted. âI was working on the structure of the offense, calling the plays on the sideline. I was a lot like Cole is here. Because I grew up in it. So the thrill of that, and the agony of defeat. I mean, on that deal youâre shouldering so much. âŠ I came over to racing, and itâs a totally different deal, because Iâm not a technical person. So for me it was kind of I kind of pick the people, spend a lot of time with the people, I try to keep the sponsors happy.
âI told everybody the biggest thrill for me is the first of every month, trying to pay the bills. I walk out of meetings, and I go, âI gotta go talk to a sponsor.â I tell the drivers, âIâm gonna try to get some money so you guys can throw it away.âââ
At the postrace press conference, Gibbs kept returning to a couple of themes. One was the support of his sponsors. Heâs good at fulfilling NASCARâs peculiar economic necessity. The other one was family.
Thereâs a story about Gibbs when he was with the Redskins. He was a grinder of a coach, a Jon Gruden type. He tended to watch film into the night and fall asleep on his office couch, wake up the next morning and go right back at it. Gibbs was a bit mono-focused, you might say.
As the story goes, he brought his two sons, J.D. and Coy, to camp one year when they were young kids. Several days later, he was shocked when they tore past his desk, faces dirty and hair disheveled, wearing the same clothes he had last seen them in. He had forgotten the boys were there, and they had basically been living a feral existence.
This story may be exaggerated, but itâs safe to say that life as an NFL coach did not afford Gibbs a lot of quality family time. He has made up for it in racing. J.D., the eldest son, was for years the guiding force behind Joe Gibbs Racing. To hear people in NASCAR talk about him, J.D. Gibbs was a visionary who excelled at finding young talent. He died in January at the age of 49 after a brutal battle with a neurological disease. Joe Gibbs couldnât stop talking about J.D. on Sunday.
Coy previously drove for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Craftsman Truck and Busch series, and currently helps run the JGR supercross and motocross programs. And now Joe has grandkids winning races.
âI will be honest,â he said. âI was awful uptight with that. When itâs your grandson out there, itâs a whole different emotion. Not that I didnât get excited today, but last night was a big deal.â
Sunday was a big deal, too, for Martin Truex Jr. and his entire NASCAR team. But when youâre Joe Gibbs, well, the big days tend to run together a bit.
You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.