Monday July 6th, 2020 1:24AM

Joe Gibbs' eldest son dies at 49 from neurological disease

By The Associated Press
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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (AP) — J.D. Gibbs, eldest son of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, was remembered as the visionary behind the stellar career of several NASCAR stars following his death from complications a long battle with a degenerative neurological disease. He was 49.

Joe Gibbs Racing announced Gibbs' death Saturday. He died Friday.

Gibbs was co-founder of the NASCAR team that bears his fathers' name and he largely ran the day-to-day operations of what is now an elite organization. He stepped away from JGR in 2015 when it was announced he was suffering from "conditions related to brain function." He was president of JGR at the time and is credited with launching the career of Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and spearheading the team's pivotal move to Toyota.

Jason Dean Gibbs was also a staunch supporter of Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch, who won championships for the organization despite numerous skirmishes on and off the track. Stewart, a two-time champion driving for Gibbs, posted a photo from his 2002 title celebration in New York City alongside Gibbs and then-crew chief Greg Zipadelli.

"Heartbroken for the entire Gibbs family," Stewart wrote on social media. "J.D. was a great person — a family man who loved sports & racing in particular. He played a big part in my career, both as a driver & as a team owner. When he asked how you were doing, he genuinely cared. I'll miss that the most."

Hamlin, who was found by Gibbs racing short tracks in Virginia, posted a photo sitting next to Gibbs before his 2006 Cup debut. Lurking just over Gibbs' shoulder is Hamlin's father, who told Gibbs that day 'He's all yours now.'

"I will always be grateful for what his family did for mine and the opportunity he gave me 14 years ago," Hamlin wrote.

Gibbs played defensive back and quarterback at William & Mary from 1987-90 while his father coached the Washington Redskins, a team he led to three Super Bowl titles. He transitioned into NASCAR and the family business when the elder Gibbs launched his NASCAR team in 1992.

Gibbs was eventually co-chairman of JGR, but began with the organization as a part-time driver and over-the-wall crew member. He made 13 NASCAR national series starts between 1998 and 2002.

"We were privileged to watch J.D. Gibbs grow within the sport, displaying an endearing personality, a keen eye for talent and the strong business acumen that helped grow Joe Gibbs Racing into a preeminent NASCAR team," said NASCAR Chairman Jim France. "The NASCAR family has lost a truly special member."

Washington owner Dan Snyder and wife Tanya say they are "heartbroken for the J.D. Gibbs family" and "for anyone who had the honor and privilege to know J.D., he was instantly recognized as a champion in life and sports."

Gibbs is survived by wife Melissa and four sons.

___

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