• Sat. Apr 1st, 2023

Tension palpable ahead of Xfinity Series Championship race

ByEvan McNelia

Nov 4, 2022
Gibbs, Gragson and Allgaier race at Martinsville

Photo courtesy of Mike Mulholland | Getty Images

Tension is tighter than typical heading into this year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship as one driver’s recent actions have put him at ends with some drivers and at even farther ends from others. 

On the final lap of the restart-infested Dead On Tools 250 last week at Martinsville Speedway, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Toyota Ty Gibbs spun out his teammate No. 19 Brandon Jones, taking first place in a race in which he had already clinched a spot in the Championship 4.

However, Jones needed to win the race in order to keep his postseason alive and advance to the championship.

Jones established a lead on the restart out of the final caution and led going into the final lap of the race. Gibbs bulldozed his way through Jones’s rear bumper, sending him spinning into Turn 1 and Gibbs easily ran away with the final lap, eliminating his teammate from championship contention.

“It’s definitely really hard,” Gibbs said. “You know, going back, if I could redo it multiple times, I would have thought I guess this scenario over millions of times, you know, and it’s hard for me because I have to live with it now. And it’s really hard, you know, but we could have had two JGR cars I guess, in Championship 4 and I took that out. I took 50% of Toyota’s championship and JGR’s championship away for my selfish action so I have to move forward and do the best I can to work and to fix these things.”

Gibbs said that he knew the situation Jones was in, needing a win, but was not aware of the specific points circumstances.

Following the race Gibbs celebrated eccentrically, continuing as the Martinsville crowd voiced its displeasure, he welcomed the boos with open arms and even stated that ‘Jesus was hated first and among the people’ in an interview.

“I totally do [regret the comment],” Gibbs said. “And I think that I wasn’t trying to say it like that, it came out the wrong way of course, and moving forward I just have to do the best I can to be more aware of my situation and then what’s going on”

Gibbs may be one of the best drivers in the NASCAR Xfinity Series but he’s also one of the youngest at just 20 years old. Gibbs is the grandson of team owner and hall-of-fame NFL head coach Joe Gibbs.

With Jones eliminated, it left the fourth Xfinity championship spot open for JR Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet Justin Allgaier who beat out Kaulig Racing No.16 AJ Allmendinger in a points battle to claim the final championship spot.

Allgaier became the third JRM driver to qualify for the championship race with the No. 9 Noah Gragson and the No. 8 Josh Berry, giving JRM a 75-percent chance to claim the championship. Allgaier said he was surprised to see Gibbs make the move in the moment as he thought his season was over with Jones taking the initial lead on the restart.

“It’s actually been really fun,” Allgaier said on having a lot of his team competing for the championship. “We give each other a lot of grief but I would say that Martinsville, I’m excited to come into Phoenix and not have the, I don’t even know what to say, I don’t know the right word for it, not have the surrounding of what had happened after Martinsville. Obviously, we had our craziness that happened, but there were a few others that had a little more craziness so it makes it nice to come in here and be below the radar and not have to worry about it.” 

Berry has a closer relationship with Gibbs as they raced late models together early in their careers. Berry first remembers Ty racing around 12 or 13 years old. 

He said that he believes that Gibbs would go about the situation differently if given a second chance in the future and that not 100 percent of the blame should fall on him.

“I’ve raced long enough to know there are people with radios, there are people watching the race, there are people that could have given him advice to help him navigate that situation better,” Berry said. “Be proactive versus not reactive like now they’re wanting to backtrack on it and say ‘that’s not what should’ve happened’ something should have been said Saturday night. I mean we all saw it coming, I did at least but the good part of that is it really doesn’t concern me so it’s up for them to figure out and whoever else wants to get involved.”

Berry had nothing negative to say about Gibbs and noted that they have always been open to smooth issues over with conversations and move on. 

Allgaier mentioned how hard it can be for Gibbs, competing in a national series at such a young age and having to learn a lot of lessons that most older drivers learned at lower levels on a national stage. 

At NASCAR Championship 4 Media Day, Gibbs spent most of his availability fielding questions about the incident and the fallout of the last week. He said that he and Jones had spoken about the incident but that he was going to keep the details of that conversation private. Gibbs mentioned multiple times how he felt his actions were selfish and that he needs to be more situationally aware in the future. 

Overall, Gibbs did not let much on and was mostly just apologetic in his responses.

Gragson is friends with Jones and talked with him following the incident and let him know how well he thought he ran during the race, and how JRM was looking forward to having him as the replacement for Gragson’s No. 9 car in 2023. Gragson is moving to the Petty GMS Chevrolet No. 42 Cup car next year. 

Gragson was much less reserved as he openly criticized Gibbs, beginning his interview by saying he was comfortable in voicing his displeasure with Gibbs. He went on to say later on that he races other guys the way that they race him, mentioning Gibbs crashing with him multiple times.

“I’ve made that very clear in-person, face-to-face, nose-to-nose, kind of behind the scenes where not a lot of people were and I think he got the message,” Gragson said.

Gragson said it occurred after the race at Portland International Raceway in June. He said he flew to Illinois for Zane Smith’s Cup Series debut at World Wide Technology Raceway and as he was walking through a lot at the race course he ran into Gibbs who had wrecked him three times in four weeks and Gragson decided to ‘let him know how he felt.’ He said that he let Gibbs know what the consequences would be if he were to continue causing issues on the course.

“I’m just sick and tired of the ‘I’m sorry, I’m trying to learn’ deal,” Gragson said. 

Gibbs also ran Gragson up into the fence late in the race at Martinsville last week. When asked if he believes Gibbs could change Gragson responded “no” and that Gibbs lives in “Fantasy Land.”

Gragson said he is more worried about the other talent the Cup Series will offer as opposed to Gibbs when looking forward to 2023. When Gibbs was asked how he felt the situation was going to impact his 2023 plans as far as Cup racing goes he said he was not sure. 

“All four of these guys, well maybe three of us, are just racing ourselves,” Gragson said. “It’s definitely a lot easier to come into the championship race and the whole industry doesn’t hate you so with that being said, I think you can only beat yourself and we just need to focus on executing at our best and our mistakes to a minimum.”

Gragson said he would prefer to beat Gibbs straight up as opposed to wrecking him because it angers Gibbs more. He alluded to his decision to take the outside lane upon restart at Martinsville when he ended up getting run up into the wall.

Gragson also made multiple cracks referring to Gibb’s height, calling him “little man” and later when referring to the championship field correcting himself from saying three other guys to “well three and a half” other guys.

When asked if he was trying to instill a bigger ‘trash-talk’ culture within the Xfinity Series, Gragson said “I’m just voicing my opinion, I don’t like him. It’s just speaking what everybody doesn’t want to say, but they feel it.” 

Gragson was by far the loudest driver when it came to speaking out against Gibbs. Gibbs held his cards close and continued to be mostly apologetic through a lot of his press conferences. NASCAR Cup Series veteran and Championship4 driver Joey Logano compared Gibbs’ mistake to some of his mistakes earlier in his career and the lessons he has learned in that time. 

JRM is in a prime position to collect trophies but Gibbs still could pose threat if plans to disrupt his championship run are foiled. 

“Whoever of the four of us walks out of here with a championship, it won’t be for a lack of effort,” Allgaier said. “It’s going to be because they did the best job that day.”

The NASCAR Xfinity Championship race is on Saturday, November 5 at 6 p.m. ET (USA Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).