If you’re a fan of Playoff racing in NASCAR, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. If you’re not a fan of this style of racing…well you might be shit out of luck as the Martinsville elimination races tend to yield some of the most controversial moments in the NASCAR season. Saturday’s Xfinity Series race proved this to be true, and one of its young stars is right at the center of it all.
While Martinsville has needed some rethinking from a Cup standpoint on competition and passing opportunities, the Xfinity cars are still bringing the action thanks to a unique combination of good race cars and a field of drivers that lack patience and take big risks. As per usual, there were several instances of bump’n’runs, slaps, slams, and all manner of impolite contact on track…but one moment stands out above the rest.
After what felt like a hundred late race restarts, a trading of the 1st and 2nd place positions between JGR drivers Ty Gibbs and Brandon Jones was setting up to be one of those races where the 2nd place car on the last lap was likely to “give a bump” to the leader to grab the win. On what was finally determined to be the final restart of the race as the lead pack crossed the line to get the white flag, Ty Gibbs ran deep into the first turn and slammed into leader Brandon Jones. With Gibbs’ hood buckled and Jones’ rear wheels slightly off the ground, the 19 car was sent spinning into the 1st turn wall and Gibbs cruised to an easy victory.
There are a million things to talk about here, but the most obvious to me is how this looks from a “team” aspect in NASCAR. Due to NASCAR’s Playoff scoring format, the final restart presented a unique opportunity to get BOTH Joe Gibbs Racing cars into the final round of the Playoff had Ty Gibbs driven with a little more respect. If Jones had won the race, both he and Gibbs would be into the final, but as a result of the crash a 3rd Jr Motorsports car in Justin Allgaier transferred to the final at Phoenix leaving Gibbs all by himself against the field for the final race of the season. On one hand it was nice and even a bit refreshing to see a lack of team orders at the end of a big race…but that can’t outweigh what looked to be a perfect example of what Days of Thunder called “low down, shit-ass racing.”
Saturday night on Twitter and beyond was a brilliant example of the NASCAR community coming together to voice their displeasure. As the middle fingers and boos rained down on Gibbs on location at the Virginia speedway, all manner of criticisms were being shared on the Internet. While we can discount the loudmouth blowhard types like yours truly, drivers and professional analysts from both past and present all seemed to share the same opinion. It’s extremely rare to see 95% of the racing world agree on ANYTHING, so this was an extremely rare treat to behold. Still, there was more to feast upon less than an hour later.
Ty Gibbs was clearly enjoying the attention of the moment, as he encouraged the crowd to keep the boos coming when greeting the crowd on the front stretch. As we’ve discussed previously ‘round these parts, being the villain can be a benefit for the sport, and is usually a net positive. As Claire Lang asked Ty Gibbs in a media interview on that very subject, the 20 year old grandson of Joe Gibbs gave one of the most tonedeaf answers you could imagine.
What this says to me, above all else, is that Ty Gibbs is in desperate need of a personal relations rebuild. Let’s be crystal clear, there’s nothing wrong or inappropriate about anyone in sports publicly sharing their religious beliefs. Heck, we even had a Cup driver in William Byron do the invocation for that very race. Still, when the chips are down and it’s time to speak for yourself, one’s faith shouldn’t be an all-purpose shield to your actions. Professional racing is not a meritocracy, and a HIGH percentage of drivers are in our sport based more on money than talent. On that same point, Ty Gibbs is also a talented race car driver. Even with a great race car you still have to get the job done, and the 20 year old looks to have a very promising future. And yet given all of that Ty Gibbs through his actions at Martinsville seems hellbent on giving us the very worst on each of those metrics.
In NASCAR, what we see is what we get, and on Saturday what we saw was a tonedeaf, mentally weak little pipsqueak that thinks more of himself than the rest of us could ever dare to achieve in a moment of decadent hubris. There’s too much talent here to waste, and that’s the biggest rub of them all. A little rich boy that couldn’t drive for shit would be easy to cast aside…but there’s a real talent that needs to be cultivated and saved in the name of helping the next generation of NASCAR Cup racing. This has to be done before it’s too late, otherwise Joe Gibbs Racing could be in very serious trouble…but Denny Hamlin said it best:
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