1. How far will Ty Gibbs be allowed to go?
This obviously is not the first race weekend when we have mused about something that Ty Gibbs did on or near the racetrack in its aftermath.
The latest was this weekend at Martinsville, and it’s as if Gibbs took on a challenge of seeing how far toward crossing the line between aggressive and out-of-bounds he could go. Frankly speaking, when a driver is already in the Championship 4 blatantly wrecks someone, let alone their own teammate, it says one thing — that said driver is selfish and entitled. That may not be true, but that is the perception it gives off.
Joe Gibbs Racing can say all it wants about dealing with Ty Gibbs recent actions internally, but until Ty Gibbs alters what he is doing, it’s all meaningless.
Ty Gibbs is far from the only driver that fell into top-notch equipment and had questions asked about how they handled themselves. It was a few short years ago that similar questions were asked about Noah Gragson, who over time figured out there was a right way and wrong way to do things.
Here’s the problem with Ty Gibbs, though. Gragson had to do certain things to win the favor of prospective team owners. Ty Gibbs’ grandad owns Joe Gibbs Racing, so there’s no worrying there.
Drivers find themselves under heavy spotlights, some of their own doing and some through no fault of their own.
Gibbs has self-inflicted all of that and only has himself to blame. After last week, Gibbs has burned a target into his back. If it doesn’t cost him a championship, it’ll cost him in terms of not being taken out of races by other drivers next year.
If there’s a good thing for Ty Gibbs, it’s this Jimmy Spencer does not currently race in NASCAR. Just ask Kurt Busch about Spencer’s idea of teaching a young driver a lesson.
2. Does Denny Hamlin need to pull a Pedro Cerrano and request to sacrifice a live chicken?
In the movie Major League, the Cleveland Indians’ voodoo-worshipping power-hitter, Pedro Cerrano, requested to sacrifice a live chicken before the final game before journeyman catcher Jake Taylor secured a bucket of KFC chicken, “one whole chicken.”
You can’t blame Denny Hamlin if he employs a similar tactic for his next championship quest.
Everyone remembers who made a dramatic miracle play: Doug Flutie’s Boston College “Hail Mary,” Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world.”
Forgotten over time, though, are details of who was on the opposing side. That’s where Sunday’s insane move by Ross Chastain will unfairly cast Hamlin.
Hamlin won two times this year, but all of that will now be dwarfed because Hamlin failed to reach the Championship 4.
Yes, the season was a good one for Hamlin with his race victories. He has reached a level of success over time that many would dream of. But until Hamlin wins a title, there will always be a, “yeah, but … ” next to Hamlin’s name.
Sure, wins are nice. But when you become more and more defined by what eludes you as driver, that’s all that people remember. Until Hamlin wins a title, that’ll be his legacy.
3. Why are we even criticizing Ross Chastain’s move?
I’ll admit to dropping my jaw when someone even suggested a rule change to forbid moves like Chastain made on Sunday to secure a spot in the title race. I still am; frankly, anyone thinking that Chastain’s move was a bad thing is embarrassing to the sport.
Chastain’s move made no sense, but it worked. That’s what makes it great. It’s the same as a risky trick play in football. It could be the craziest and stupidest idea in the world … until it works. Then? You’re a hero.
In a time of racing where drivers settle for “a good points day” or “that’s all it has, guys,” Chastain went for it. Could it have been a spectacular failure? Yes. But even with that, Chastain would have come up short risking it all, and likely been lauded for it.
Since Sunday’s checkered flag, even people who looked down their nose at NASCAR were talking about the finish. People who only bring up NASCAR only when there is a crazy wreck? They were talking about Chastain’s move. It made the top play on SportsCenter, for goodness sake. And this will be played on highlights reels for years to come, which is much better to see than a car being wrecked and flipped, by the way.
Chastain’s move was one of the best things to happen to the sport in a very long time, and anyone well-placed in NASCAR thinking that it was a bad thing should consider doing something else.
4. Is Adam Stevens the championship x-factor?
Other than Chastain, no one has a firmer gust of momentum going into Phoenix than Christopher Bell. Not only has Bell once again won a must-win race to advance, but when he runs well, he and the No. 20 team have been very good — to the tune of five top-five finishes in nine playoff races.
That’s enough to make him a good pick to win at Phoenix. Plus, he has advanced to the Championship 4 of the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. That experience of knowing what it takes to win a championship in a final race doesn’t hurt, either.
But there’s another thing that makes Bell dangerous in Phoenix, and he’s sitting atop the No. 20 pit box. That person is none other than Adam Stevens, who has also guided Kyle Busch to a pair of titles.
Sure, Joey Logano and Chase Elliott have won championships before, and both teams have the resources to get it done. But in a crazy year that has seen Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch all fall short of the Championship 4, Joe Gibbs Racing would like nothing more than to salvage things with a Bell championship.
5. Does being the villain come with driving for Toyota?
The late wrestling Hall of Famer Scott Hall said it best.
“Bad times don’t last. Bad guys do.”
Every sport needs a bad guy. While it remains to be seen if Kyle Busch will have that same villain attraction when he goes to Richard Childress Racing, he’ll be leaving a manufacturer where being willing to play the villain may as well come with the territory.
Toyota has a reputation for bringing in talented drivers eager to win willing to wear that emotion on their sleeves, and that comes even with being disliked.
Even with Busch leaving, you have Ty Gibbs, who appears to never meet a chance for an on-track run-in he didn’t like. Bubba Wallace, even back to his Legends car days, has shown a drive to win off and on the track. And Denny Hamlin, for some reason, attracts a good share of boos during driver intros.
Team Penske may have the reputation for being the guys with freshly pressed slacks and white shirts and Hendrick Motorsports can be perceived as the New York Yankees of NASCAR, but when it comes to Toyota, being willing to wear the proverbial black hat has tended to be the rule, and it doesn’t look to be changing any time soon.
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