Hate it or love it, Ty Gibbs is heading to Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series season finale at the Phoenix Raceway with a 1-in-4 shot at a championship. For a driver that’s won 20% of his races (10 wins in 50 starts) that he’s competed in for this series, those are pretty good odds that the 20-year old Joe Gibbs Racing driver will be celebrating a title in the Arizona desert on Saturday night.
However, will his past antics come back to bite him?
Gibbs is the only driver not belonging to JR Motorsports vying for this year’s title. The other three in the mix are all teammates. Is that an advantage for Gibbs in a sense that he’s going to get the full attention and support of JGR?
Well, depends on whom you ask.
“I’m just sick and tired of the, ‘I’m sorry, I’m trying to learn’ deal,” Noah Gragson said. “It’s been two years. … I think all of us are definitely over being the pinball for him.”
Gragson brushed off the idea that perhaps Gibbs returns to the track this week a little more mindful. “He doesn’t care,” said Gragson, who added the two even had a conversation mid-season about Gibbs aggressive tactics.
“It’s crazy to me, but it worked out for JRM so now we’ve got a 75 percent chance to win [the championship],” said Gragson, who will move up to the NASCAR Cup Series next season and be replaced next year at JRM by Brandon Jones.
Gragson won at Phoenix in March. Gibbs best finish in two starts, is runner-up in 2021.
Gibbs acknowledged the possibility that Brandon Jones or someone else in the field perhaps another competitor he’s had a past run-in with may do something to hurt his chances at a race win and the series championship. But Gibbs reiterated, “There’s nothing I can do about that.”
“You just have to transition your mind to that,” Gibbs said, of re-setting and preparing to race for the championship.
“For me, I love racing so much I can transition it pretty easy to my racing side, just because I love it,” Gibbs said. “And I feel like that’s a good trait I have but sometimes I make mistakes and have to own up to it and work as hard as I can to fix that as I do racing and studying data.”
He may lack the support from just inside of their team walls. He’d have some company via a teammate this Saturday if not for his lack of poise last Saturday in Martinsville. Gibbs felt wronged for some reason by Jones and took matters in his own hands by purposely moving Jones out of the way while Jones was leading the final lap. Gibbs even admitted as much afterwards saying that he felt Jones took him out of a win in the spring race there and felt that Jones was too rough on him in going for the win on one of the late race restarts.
However, Jones had to. He needed to win. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t advance on. Gibbs, as a teammate and as a driver who shares the last name of the organization that both drivers race for, wasn’t a very good teammate or steward of his last name. He single handily kept Jones out of the championship round which allowed a third JRM car in (Justin Allgaier).
Allgaier is great at Phoenix. A past winner at that. He’s been to 5 Championship 4’s in 7 years. That maneuver on Jones could come back to bite Gibbs in more than one way. It could allow JRM a title and it also sends a message to the garage that if Gibbs is leading late, he’s a target to take out.
He set this precedent and has to live with the consequences. Jones isn’t going to make it easy on Gibbs on Saturday. Neither will the 4th JRM driver in Sam Mayer who ironically enough, Gibbs punched in the face after the first Martinsville race this year. Neither will any of the 3 JRM championship contending cars either.
That’s 5 drivers right there alone that won’t give Gibbs any slack. I highly doubt anyone else would either.
Which is why I wonder if his past will keep him out of a championship. Nevertheless, with his actions from last Saturday, you can bet this race will be met with a ton of attention. With Gibbs likely moving up to replace Kyle Busch in the Cup Series next year, can he in his 51st Xfinity start, win a championship?
He has 12 top 8 finishes in the last 15 and has been in the top 7 (3rd, 7th, 2nd, 4th, 2nd, 1st) in every race of the playoffs. Gibbs was also runner-up in his first Phoenix start and sixth in the other. He has 1 career lap led here. Can he top the JR Motorsports trio?