HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- At Joe Gibbs Racing, nobody calls J.D.
But the president of the family business is now the man running a team on the brink of its third NASCAR championship while his
famous father takes care of other business.
Shortly after Joe Gibbs leads his Washington Redskins against
the Oakland Raiders on Sunday in Landover, Md., Tony Stewart will
race his No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet at Homestead-Miami Speedway in
an effort to wrap up another title for the team that carries the
Stewart, who added a title in 2002 to the one Bobby Labonte
earned for the Gibbs team in 2000, heads into the season-ending
Ford 400 needing only to finish ninth or better to take his second
championship, no matter what his pursuers do.
J.D. Gibbs doesn't want to take the credit, but if Stewart can
wrap up the title, this one would belong mostly to him.
The first two titles came while he was learning his role as team president and his father was still attending races and coming to
the office almost daily to oversee things.
Then the elder Gibbs, a three-time Super Bowl winner and Hall of Fame inductee who ostensibly retired from coaching at the end of
the 1992 season -- the race team's first year -- decided to return to
the sidelines with the Redskins in 2004.
He took younger son Coy along with him as an assistant coach, leaving J.D. as the man in charge of the family business.
"Sure, I was concerned when he decided to put it on my
shoulders," J.D. Gibbs said Friday. "What my dad has a gift for,
he's a great team builder, good leader.
"I had to think about it: 'OK, so he's not going to be there
full time. July through September -- gone.' But what he does is deal
with sponsors. He has a great relationship with them.
"Him not being there to interact with the sponsors was a
concern for them. But he has been able to keep that relationship
and it's working well."
Last year was a real learning experience for J.D., who at 36
feels a lot more comfortable in his role as team leader.
And he's had plenty of help from team manager Jimmy Makar,
Stewart's veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli, vice president of
operations Todd Meredith and others.
"Doing it for a year, plus having the guys around me, has been
a big help," Gibbs said. "I think I've kind of matured, plus
filling in some gaps my dad left with the rest of the guys."
Stewart has no doubts about the team president.
"I think he underestimates his ability as the team leader,"
Stewart said. "J.D. is a really smart guy -- a lot smarter than he
lets people know."
Not everything has gone well for Gibbs and the team, though.
Labonte has struggled through four straight mediocre seasons. He
recently asked for and was granted a release from the last three
years of his contract with Gibbs to join Petty Enterprises in 2006.
The Gibbs team added a third full-time entry in 2004, with Jason Leffler starting the season in the car and being fired after
failing to finish in the top 10 in 19 races.
The unproven Yeley, like Stewart a former open-wheel champion, will take Bobby Labonte's seat in the No. 18.
"We know both of them have tremendous potential," Gibbs said of Yeley and Hamlin.
Meanwhile, Gibbs will continue his on-the-job training and glean
as much advice from his father as he can.
"We usually talk twice a week," J.D. said. "We talk racing
and we talk football. I'll bounce any major decision off of him. He
doesn't ask me about any football decisions."
Gibbs pointed out he had just completed his schooling at William
& Mary when his father, who wanted a project the family could
share, started his Cup team in 1992.
"He was still coaching and we kind of started it together,"
J.D. said. "He'll be back here in a few years. He's got three
years left up there and I'm sure he'll be back.
"It's a family business. I'd love to have my kids doing it
years from now. It's not mine or his. It's just kind of a family