Bell finishes 10th in Phoenix after Coy Gibbs’ death

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — As Christopher Bell was about to leave for driver introductions, he still wasn’t sure if he would make the NASCAR Cup Series Finals.

Bell and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates learned hours earlier that team vice president Coy Gibbs, son of NFL and NASCAR Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, had died in his sleep at age 49.

Not knowing what to do, Bell and the other riders were told by JGR President Dave Alpern that they should keep going and racing despite the overwhelming news.

“It was an experience like I’ve never had in my entire life,” Bell said Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. “At that point you don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong and you don’t know if you should be in the race, the car and the race if you shouldn’t be racing.”

Bell got into the car, finishing 10th after a late crash on pit road cost him a chance to win a championship. He finished third behind champion Joey Logano and Ross Chastain in his first Cup Series qualifier.

His teammate Kyle Busch finished seventh in his last race before leaving for Richard Childress Racing next year. Denny Hamlin was eighth and Martin Truex Jr. 15th.

All four struggled with emotions just to get into their cars.

Joe Gibbs Racing announced on Sunday morning that Coy Gibbs died hours after his son Ty won the Xfinity Series championship to cap off a tumultuous week. Joe Gibbs’ other son, JD, died in 2019 from a degenerative neurological disease. He was also 49 years old.

News of Coy’s death broke shortly before the race, causing shock throughout the paddock.

Busch cried on pit road ahead of his final race after 15 years with Joe Gibbs Racing. JD’s son Jackson had “Uncle Coy” on his helmet as he worked on the race with the Bell crew.

“Of all the hardships I’ve been through this year, today was definitely the worst, the toughest ever,” Busch said.

Ty Gibbs was scheduled to race in Sunday’s Cup Series race as a replacement for Kurt Busch, who was out with a concussion. JGR tried to find a replacement driver for their replacement driver after news broke of Coy’s death, but it wasn’t easy.

Many Xfinity drivers left after Saturday’s race and JGR had to find someone who could fit in a car set up for the small Gibbs. The team was able to find Daniel Hemric, but he was stuck in traffic off the track and a police escort was needed to get him to the car in time.

“Today we will do what we don’t want to do, but we will come together as a family and run for the name on our chest,” Hamlin tweeted.

Bell earned a berth in the Cup Series playoffs by winning twice when needed. The 27-year-old won in Charlotte on Oct. 9 to advance to the playoffs and won in Martinsville last week to reach the winner’s final.

Bell started 17th in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and fought his way to the front on the 1-mile oval. The former dirt runner from Oklahoma was able to stop at the bumper of Joey Logano, the only driver in the last square in front of him, at the end of the race, a possible championship in sight.

Bell’s bid fell apart when one of its crew members got caught changing the left rear tire. The delay cost him 11 places and a title shot, but the news earlier in the day put the disappointment into context.

“An incredible emotional twist and a shift in perspective for sure,” Bell said. “You think it’s the big picture and every time you get news like this you realize it’s a small picture in the grand scheme of things.”

___

AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports