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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Joe Gibbs has called an audible, but he reserves the right to go back to his original game plan in the near future. Gibbs has won championships in two major sports, and now he s trying to win two more, simultaneously.
Gibbs had three Super Bowl victories as head coach of the Washington Redskins, but left football after the 1993 season to focus all of his energy on his racing team. Bobby Labonte (2000) and Tony Stewart (2002) have won Winston Cup championships driving for Gibbs.
After a decade out of football, however, Gibbs returned to the Redskins in January as head coach and president. He turned Joe Gibbs Racing over to his son, J.D.
“With football, it s probably going to be a limited number of years where I can be involved,” the 63-year-old Gibbs said. “In racing we re going to be involved for a long time. We re always going to own this race team and always be involved in racing.”
Gibbs was back here yesterday as his two Nextel Cup teams made final preparations for tomorrow s Daytona 500. The first win for his racing team came here in the 1993 Daytona 500 when Dale Jarrett was driving for Gibbs.
“That was probably one of the greatest experiences I ve had in sports, winning here,” Gibbs said. “The year before we had struggled, and I asked myself, Is this right, can we afford this? And then things came around.”
As his racing successes continued, Gibbs was asked less and less about a possible return to football. He always said he would never go back to the NFL.
“Every time I asked my wife, she said no,” Gibbs said. “And when this came up again recently, there were about 15 things that had to happen to make it work, and I figured that someplace along the way the Lord was going to slam the door. But everything that had to happen did happen.”
Gibbs said Stewart joked that Gibbs was forced to go back to football in order to get the resources to pay the salaries for his two drivers.
“I come over here and try and talk two young guys into driving my race cars for millions of dollars. Then I go over to the NFL and try and talk two young guys into playing quarterback for me for millions of dollars,” Gibbs said. “Maybe he s right. I think me being in football just might help my racing team - it will help pay for those guys.”
Gibbs said the NFL is not the game he left a decade ago.
“I definitely feel like I m starting all over again. I don t wear the Super Bowl rings, because what we did back then is over, and you have to prove yourself all over again. For me it s a big learning curve, with the salary cap and free agency and all. You kind of dive into it and learn on the job, but I ll say this, this is not the safe thing to do.”
Gibbs said he sees more similarities in the two sports than differences.
“They are the same in that it s the people and the chemistry that make you successful. Getting the right people and getting them to fit together is the key. There ll be a lot of other changes I ll have to get used to with football, but the thing I m kind of counting on is that the people issues are going to be the same.”
SWIM, SWIM: Just how bad do some drivers want to get into the Daytona 500? When that question was put to Craftsman Trucks Series veteran Mike Skinner this week, he was willing to sacrifice family members to make the field. “I d throw my mom in the river to get in that race,” Skinner said. He got the 43rd and final position in the field for the 500, without going to that extreme, and Mom is high and dry.
WEATHER WATCHERS: After racing in sunshine and 80-degree heat in Thursday night s qualifying races, the Nextel Cup drivers practiced yesterday in 55-degree weather under heavy, overcast skies with a cool mist coming in off the Atlantic Ocean. They will all be checking the Weather Channel before deciding on a plan for tomorrow s Daytona 500.
“This race track doesn t have a lot of grip in it, and when it gets hot it gets really slick,” Jeff Burton said. “We saw that the other day. Now today it s a completely different deal, since it s cool, and almost cold out there. If we get rain before the race, then that will wash a lot of the rubber off the track, and change it all again.”
The forecast for the race calls for cooler temperatures after thunderstorms late tonight.
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