AVONDALE, AZ — Ty Gibbs just didn’t flinch. He never turned a wheel wrong over 200 laps of action in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series season finale. Noah Gragson battled his No. 9 Chevrolet and lost spots constantly when he came down pit road for service. In the end, it cost Gragson a championship in his final year in the series.
Next year he moves up to the NASCAR Cup Series with Petty GMS Racing. Which is why he so badly wanted to end his tenure with JR Motorsports with some new hardware. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.
“I gave it my best,” Gragson said. “I drove my ass off and gave it everything I had. Just got beat…
“He (Gibbs) raced like a champion tonight. He deserved it.”
Gragson first took over the lead on Lap 74 and would lead the next four laps before Gibbs got him quickly back four laps later. He was 2nd and 3rd in the two stages. In the final stage, Gragson passed Gibbs back on Lap 116 and would lead the next 31 laps before Justin Allgaier got by his teammate on Lap 147. Gragson was still a close second.
Then the caution flies. The money stop coming, Gragson entered pit road second. He exited 8th. How much would this pose a problem?
It luckily didn’t. Gragson didn’t falter much. He went quickly from 8th to 3rd and with 20-to-go -2nd. In the lead? Gibbs.
“I’m just voicing my opinion that I don’t like him,” Gragson said on Thursday morning from the Arizona capital during the Championship 4 Media Day. “I’m just sick and tired of the, ‘I’m sorry, I’m trying to learn’ deal. It’s been two years. … I think all of us are definitely over being the pinball for him.
“He doesn’t care. He lives in fantasyland. I have no clue honestly what goes through his mind. It’s got to be badass to live in the kind of world where you just have no real consequences or anything.”
With saying those words, would he use his bumper in the way Gibbs used his against his own teammate last Saturday? Was Gibbs worried about the potential of that?
“Not at all. I focused out the windshield,” Gibbs said. I felt like we had a great race with those guys. Great job to JR Motorsports, but the 25 percent won.”
What about Gragson? Did he ever consider moving him?
“No, I wasn’t even really thinking about — I wanted to win it fair and square, and I didn’t know what would happen if I did try it,” he said of moving Gibbs for the win.
“I was more focused on just trying to get a good run off of 2. We were just too tight and I wasn’t close enough.”
Gragson said he did think about doing a maneuver similar in nature to what Ross Chastain did last week too, but the track didn’t lend much opportunity.
Still, he says he was happy to fight back and wasn’t giving up despite that costly pit stop.
“We still had laps left, and we still had opportunity,” he said of that moment. “We weren’t wrecked. We weren’t in the garage. We still had opportunity.
“Just got beat there at the end. Started getting tight, probably needed to be a little freer.
“But really proud of everyone’s efforts all year long. That’s why I’m mad at the result a little bit, but I’m not. I don’t know. I felt like last year I was way more mad just because — I don’t know, I think this year I did my absolute best, like I can lay my head down after restarting eighth with 25, 30 to go and getting up to second and almost having a shot to win the race.
“I’m content with that. I don’t think the driver a year ago, two years ago, three years ago would be able to do that.
“I did my absolute best. I drove my ass off. I tried my best and gave it everything I had. Just got beat.
“I can’t really hang my head after the season that we’ve had. Eight wins, led a lot of laps.”
Still, in defeat, Gragson doesn’t care for Gibbs and it’s deeper than we all thought. The two used to be friends, but Gragson admits that they’re not that way anymore and Gibbs knows his feelings about him.
“You know, I’ve had a conversation with Ty the day after Portland and Gateway and let him know how I felt, let him know if he gets into us, what the consequences are going to be, and just — I used to be buddies with him when he was younger,” Gragson said. “You know, probably three, four years ago, he was a super cool kid. He really was.
“But I don’t know, it’s just kind of changed over the last couple years, and I’ve told him that, and he knows that.
“I don’t want to really go into much more detail about that out of respect for him and whatnot, but I told him that hey, you used to be a super cool kid and you kind of turned into a little bit of a douchebag.
“He can still grow from it, and he did a great job. They won the race fair and square today. It takes great people around you to learn, and I think he is capable. He has the potential to learn. He’s a great race car driver, and I’ve been in those shoes, too, where it just seems like you can’t do nothing right, and it’s you against the world and whatnot. But at the end of the day, I think he’s got potential, and he hasn’t reached his full potential yet off the track.”
Now both move up as rookies in the Cup Series next season in the same freshman class….