PHOENIX — One race won’t change a narrative, but Ty Gibbs certainly made huge strides to do that at Phoenix Raceway on Saturday night (Nov. 5).
Going into the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship race, Gibbs had been labeled by many, including his competitors, as a dirty driver who drove with no respect.
“I lost all respect today,” Brandon Jones said after Gibbs dumped him for the win last week at Martinsville Speedway. “I know a lot of guys on pit road have [lost respect] for him [too].”
Martinsville was one of at least seven instances this year where Gibbs drove dirty, and it brought on the question of whether some in the NXS field would do anything to prevent him from winning the title.
“I focused out the windshield,” Gibbs told NBC Sports. “I felt like we had a great race with those guys. Great job to JR Motorsports, but the 25% won.”
JRM made up 75% of the Championship 4 after Gibbs cost Jones a spot with the Martinsville dump, allowing JRM’s Allgaier to get in.
“What I did last week was unacceptable, and I apologize once again, but it was unacceptable because we could have had two shots to win this deal, and it was stupid from an organization standpoint,” Gibbs said. “All my fault. I can sit here and tell you I’m sorry as much as I can, but it’s not going to fix it. I’ve got to fix my actions.
“I felt like today I had a good race, felt like I made some good moves.”
More importantly, Gibbs won it in clean fashion. The 20-year-old battled hard for essentially the entire final stage of the race with Allgaier and Gragson, but he never wrecked them. He never even bumped them.
It seemed like Gibbs went above and beyond to make sure he made his passes on his championship rivals without any contact. His clean but tactful performance impressed both Allgaier and Gragson, the latter of which said, “I don’t like him,” about Gibbs just days before.
After the race, it was Gragson who went and congratulated every member of the No. 54 team and shook Gibbs’ hand.
— John Newby (@JohnNewby_) November 6, 2022
“Because they did a good job,” Gragson said. “They beat us.”
Gragson still thinks Gibbs is a “douchebag” but noted that he “won the race fair and square [Saturday].”
“Pocono [Raceway] proved to me that he does have the potential, and he’s very, very talented,” Gragson said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to put him back in his place a little bit. He races really, really hard, but really, really clean. And he raced like a champion tonight, and he deserves it.”
Allgaier hasn’t had as many dustups with Gibbs as Gragson has, but the last time he has as fierce of a battle with Gibbs was earlier this year at Kansas Speedway when Allgaier used Gibbs up to complete a pass. That battle resulted in Gibbs angrily side-swiping Allgaier’s No. 7 after the caution flag. The battle was much cleaner this time around, even though the stakes were way higher.
“I think one time we made like slight contact,” Allgaier said. “I was pretty impressed because I felt like I tried to take as much room as I could without having contact.
“… I pulled a couple moves to try to get clear and get to the lead, and you never know how that stuff is going to do. He had the opportunity to stick it on my door, and potentially driving as hard as I do, and if he does at that point potentially we both wreck. I thought he did a good job in that regard.”
But Gibbs’ narrative and reputation can’t be rebuilt positively in a day. He didn’t win back the fans, as boos rained down on him during his celebration.
“Yeah, I don’t want to be the one with the boos, and I’m the one that put myself in that position,” Gibbs said. “But I don’t want this championship to be remembered for boos; I want it to be remembered for hard work and our team.
“Thank you to the fans, even though I don’t have that many of them. Hopefully, I earned some respect back, and we’ll move on.”
TRD President David Wilson noted that “one race isn’t a cure-all,” but that the Gibbs family doesn’t want to continue to see Gibbs be so disliked.
“I remember the Sunday morning after [spring] Martinsville, one, talking to his grandfather, talking to Coach [Joe] Gibbs, but I was talking to his grandfather, not to Joe Gibbs,” Wilson said. “He was terribly distraught because the last thing he wanted for his grandson was for him to be disliked from the fans.
“It really is personal. But what I said to Joe is — at the time he was 19 years old, and I didn’t believe that you’re going to shape your reputation based upon one race or one season. I think that comes with time.”
There have been drivers throughout NASCAR history who went from being disliked to being fan favorites — look no further than Darrell Waltrip and Jimmie Johnson. So while Gibbs was well on his way down the path to being NASCAR’s next big villain, that destiny may not be set in stone just yet.
“I don’t think the black hat is planted firmly on his head just yet,” Wilson said. “I believe that through his actions, through his words, through his sincerity that he can recover and be who he wants to be, be who he believes he is.
“But honestly, that’s up to him. We’re going to have to see how that plays out over his career. He’s going to be arguably in the sport another 15, 20 years, we hope.”
About the author
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.