The season was off to a relatively quiet start for young phenom Ty Gibbs.
The 19-year-old driver started his first full-time season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with an 11th-place finish at Daytona, his first superspeedway race in the series. Last week at Auto Club Speedway, Gibbs spun while aggressively side drafting Daniel Hemric for the lead, putting him down a set of tires. He went on to finish 13th.
But the quiet start got deafeningly loud when, not even five laps into the season’s third race, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Gibbs let his presence be known in a not-so-flattering style.
Gibbs was one of several drivers making his way to the front of the field after dropping to the rear at the beginning of the race following an unapproved adjustment penalty. Through Turns 3 and 4, Gibbs was under Landon Cassill and quickly approaching the rear bumper of Ryan Sieg. Around the center of the corner, Gibbs’ Toyota stripped the air off of Sieg’s Ford.
Sieg bobbled, and Gibbs didn’t lift.
As a result, Gibbs’ right-front made just enough contact with the left-rear of Sieg to finish him off … sort of.
Damage to the No. 39 of Sieg was heavy and required significant attention from his pit crew. The caution came out for fluid on the track from Brennan Poole, allowing the No. 39 crew to get to work on Sieg’s car.
Sieg’s damage was repaired, but as quickly as the race returned to green, debris was found on the track, and the caution returned. Next came Mother Nature, who decided to rain and snow upon Las Vegas. The red flag was displayed and cars rolled down pit road, parked and drivers climbed out.
Sieg sought out Gibbs to have a discussion. Initially, the conversation looked OK by previous standards of driver-to-driver discussions on pit road. Television missed the initial moments of the conversation, but it ended with Sieg walking away after patting Gibbs on the shoulder. FOX Sports pit reporter Jamie Little was there, and Sieg spoke with her immediately following his dialogue with Gibbs.
… and now, the discussion. 😳 pic.twitter.com/PODtcdIWKb— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) March 5, 2022
Sieg said that what Gibbs did wasn’t “smart” and that the No. 54 was the best car on the track. After a follow-up question from Little, Sieg said, “He’s definitely probably gotta learn his lesson. If you know what I mean.”
Little replied, “So is this finished today?”
“I don’t’ think so. [We’ll] find out,” Sieg said.
Whatever Gibbs said clearly didn’t fit the bill of satisfaction for Sieg. Little caught up with Gibbs a few minutes later, and the end of the interview was subpar.
“I got into him, and […] It was my fault. We were all packed up underneath each other there,” Gibbs said. “Once he started to get a little aero free, once it happens, it’s so quick when they come to you, and I just didn’t have enough time to get out of it. We’ve seen it before, so I made my mistake on that part.
“And I told him, like I said, ‘If my goal [is] to wreck you and to ruin your day, you wouldn’t have made it around another lap.’ It was my fault.”
To Gibbs’ credit, he owned the mistake. He was mature enough to recognize his aggressive racing that early in the race was unnecessary and later apologized when, SPOILER ALERT, he was interviewed on the frontstretch after winning. But that doesn’t erase what Gibbs said in the final portion of his interview.
Despite driving the best equipment for his entire career, Gibbs’s talent behind the wheel is staggering. Not to take a cheap shot at Brandon Jones, but the driver of the No. 19 is in his fifth season with Joe Gibbs Racing and only has four victories. Gibbs now has five victories in 21 starts. It is only a matter of time, 2024 at the latest, before Gibbs is in the NASCAR Cup Series full-time.
Where maturity is lacking is in his aggression, coupled with decision-making. At Charlotte Motor Speedway in May 2021, Gibbs packed air off Chase Briscoe‘s car, sending Briscoe for a spin. Gibbs later won that race too. At Winchester Speedway last July, Gibbs cut the slower car of Brandon Varney zero slack in the first quarter of the race when he knocked Varney’s door down. As Varney spun, Gibbs then finished him off exiting turn 4.
A spat with Corey Heim started at Elko Speedway where on a restart Heim gave Gibbs the bump and run. Gibbs finished fourth that day, and Heim held on for the victory. Fast forward back to Winchester, and Gibbs was working Heim over for the race’s lead in the closing laps. With three laps to go, Gibbs had enough and dumped Heim. Gibbs won that race, while Heim finished third.
Then there’s the on-again, off-again rivalry with Sam Mayer. The two most recent incidents were during last year’s Xfinity playoffs. At the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Mayer spun Gibbs on the race’s final lap. Maybe Mayer crowded him, or maybe Gibbs expected Mayer to yield more room. Either way, Gibbs spun and fell back to finish 21st.
Three weeks later at Martinsville Speedway, Mayer wanted past Gibbs, and Gibbs brake-checked him. Mayer was able to continue and finished fourth, despite the damage sustained.
And immaturity in decision-making doesn’t just pertain to on-track actions, but also off-track.
Gibbs has handled TV interviews well since his post-race interview after the 2021 ARCA race at Daytona. To some, he still comes off as a cocky rich kid, but 2021 was a decent year in front of the camera. But in Gibbs’ interview during the red flag at Las Vegas Saturday, insinuating that if he wanted to wreck Sieg, he wouldn’t have made it another lap was in extremely poor taste and displayed a lack of maturity.
There’s no room for the “he’s 19 years old” excuse. He is a professional racecar driver who drives for one of the greatest teams in NASCAR history. He isn’t a 19-year-old on a college campus with zero eyes on him. The expectations should be higher. The line, “If my goal [is] to wreck you and to ruin your day, you wouldn’t have made it around another lap,” sounds awfully like something Kyle Busch would say.
The difference between Busch and Gibbs is a straightforward one. Busch has earned the right to say whatever he wants, whether it is right or wrong, mature or immature. For example, his Wal-Mart comment after Sunday’s (March 6) NASCAR Cup Series race is peak Rowdy.
Kyle Busch indicated that the backup was just as good as the primary because of all the common parts and pieces in every car. At least that’s what I gathered from this comment: pic.twitter.com/quvmjhbS1H— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) March 7, 2022
Busch has earned the right because he is an accomplished driver in NASCAR with over 200 victories and three championships to his name. Gibbs has five Xfinity victories, and no, I don’t consider his ARCA championship that much of an accomplishment based on the competition level he had and the equipment he was driving. Anything but a championship would have been a failure.
The discussions within Gibbs’ inner circle post-Las Vegas need to direct his focus on two areas for improvement. The first is on-track aggression. When is it appropriate, and how early is too early, as the highlight reel of on-track incidents is beginning to stack up. Furthermore, Gibbs needs to understand that he is in the best equipment. He will find a way around 80% of the field with ease.
If Gibbs is to garner respect from his competitors, the way he voices his feelings must change. If Gibbs did tell Sieg that if he meant to wreck him, he would have wrecked him, I’d be willing to place a wager that is what sent Sieg over the edge. The comment screamed arrogance and immaturity because, at that point, can you blame Sieg for wanting to teach Gibbs a lesson?
About the author
Josh Roller is a 2019 graduate of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI in Indianapolis. While in school, he covered the 2018 Indianapolis 500 and the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship. He was an extern for INDYCAR in 2019 and interned with Charlotte Motor Speedway's Communications Department in 2020. Besides writing the Xfinity Breakdown for Frontstretch, he also does a weekly podcast with a friend he met at the 2018 Indy 500, Rob Peeters, called the Racing with Rob and Roller podcast.
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