Tony Gibson and Ryan Newman quickly became good friends after they both joined Stewart-Haas Racing following the 2008 season.
So it would not have been surprising if Gibson had talked with Newman about the importance of getting a victory not just for the team’s sake, but also for Gibson himself. He’d been a Cup crew chief on-and-off since 2003 but had never won a Cup race.
But Newman had the same reaction many others had Saturday night when he was asked to comment on Gibson’s first victory as a crew chief.
“It’s not your first win as a crew chief, is it?” Newman, winner of the Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway, said with a surprised look on his face as Gibson walked into the winners’ news conference.
Gibson said it was.
“Honestly, I didn’t know that,” Newman said.
Gibson has been part of many victories. He was the car chief for 1992 Cup champion Alan Kulwicki. He was Jeff Gordon’s car chief from 1998-2002, where he won two Cup titles. He was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car chief for three of his wins there.
Not with Mark Martin. Not with Aric Almirola. And, until Saturday night, not with Newman.
“When I filled in for Tony Eury Jr. for a while, we ran second two or three times and almost won and never got it done,” Gibson said. “With Mark Martin, we came really close several times and didn’t get it done.
“I wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen. I’m pretty excited.”
Gibson said self-doubt never came into play. He had the confidence he was going about things the right way.
“I’ve won a ton of races and championships [as a car chief],” Gibson said. “It will come if you’re patient enough and do the right things.”
For Gibson, this victory wasn’t about him. It was about a group of guys that came over with him from Dale Earnhardt Inc. and are in their ninth season of working together. They hadn’t won since Earnhardt Jr. won at Richmond in 2006.
“A lot of those guys were in tears because most of us have been together for nine years,” Gibson said. “And we won with Dale Jr. and it had been a long stretch since we’d won a race. We’d come close but didn’t make it happen, so it was pretty exciting for those guys.
“And I’m more happy and more proud for those guys than for myself because I feel like those guys have followed me wherever I’ve gone. So I feel like I owe it to them and to see those guys … hopping up and jumping up and down, it just brings back memories.”
If there’s anything Gibson has tried to teach the guys on his crew, it was what he was taught by Kulwicki, who Gibson calls the most influential person in his career.
Gibson worked with Kulwicki from 1986 until the owner/driver’s death in 1993.
“He’s the one that taught us never to give up and never to quit,” Gibson said. “That’s one thing he instilled in me and I think about it every day.”
The 45-year-old from Daytona Beach didn’t have the giddiness of a crew chief earning his first win, but with all the handshakes from other crew chiefs after the race, it certainly was a special day.
“One thing Alan Kulwicki told us when we won a race, I think it was in Rockingham, we beat Bill Elliott there a long time ago and we were all cheering and happy – he looked at us and said, ‘That’s what you all get paid to do; you get paid to win.’
“So it’s exciting for me. I know tomorrow I’ll be pumped up and screaming and hollering, but I’m just trying to soak it all in right now.”
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