PHOENIX (AP) — Ty Gibbs knew his teammate had to win the final regular-season race to qualify for the Xfinity Series championship.
And yet Gibbs still spun Brandon Jones out of the lead on the final lap last week at Martinsville Speedway as Gibbs picked up his sixth win of the season.
Had he just settled for second place, Gibbs and Jones would have both advanced to Saturday's title race to give Joe Gibbs Racing a pair of Toyotas in the winner-take-all four-driver championship finale at Phoenix Raceway.
So why did he do it?
“It comes down to just caught in the moment, and you know, selfish actions led to that,” Gibbs said Thursday at the Phoenix Convention Center.
The 20-year-old Gibbs — whose grandfather, Joe Gibbs, is a Hall of Famer in both NASCAR and the NFL and the owner of one of NASCAR's top organizations — has had a miserable week in preparation of racing for his first national championship. He created it himself by preventing Jones from winning at Martinsville, where the crowd chanted “Thank You, Grandpa” as Gibbs celebrated the win.
Then after the race, Gibbs in an interview compared himself to Jesus when asked about being NASCAR's newest villain. “I always go back to the same verse, that Jesus was hated first and among all the people.”
Gibbs said Thursday he regrets the comment and said he didn't deliver the line the way he intended. But he regrets just about everything from last Saturday and has been on an apology tour at JGR, with Jones and with Toyota, which is furious one of its cars was knocked from the championship.
Because of Gibbs' action, the title race comes down to one Toyota driver and three Chevrolets from the JR Motorsports trio of Noah Gragson, Josh Berry and Justin Allgaier. Drivers from every series — including Gibbs' veteran teammates at JGR — have criticized Gibbs for Martinsville and his rivals are piling on headed into the finale.
“He doesn’t care. He lives in fantasyland,” Gragson said Thursday. “I have no clue honestly what goes through his mind. It’s got to be badass to live in the kind of world where you just have no real consequences or anything.”
His grandfather, however, insisted this week there would be consequences for his grandson. Ty Gibbs said Thursday he doesn't know what they will be, but will accept any punishment headed his way.
He's expected to be named the replacement for Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota in the Cup Series — one of the top rides in NASCAR — and Gibbs doesn't know if Martinsville has changed that.
“When tough things happen, and certainly nobody wanted that to happen, I said, ‘Now there’s consequences,’ and so we’re trying to walk through those with him,” Joe Gibbs said. “Ty is walking through it, I’m walking through it, and we’re still in that process. It was something that was heat of the battle. Everything is taking place. There was so much going on.”
Complicating the situation is that Jones is leaving JGR after Saturday's race to drive for JR Motorsports next season and has no reason to help Gibbs win the championship. In fact, he could actively prevent him from the title by working with his future JRM teammates out of spite.
Additionally, Jones' father, J.R., is an executive chairman at Rheem, which is a major sponsor of Christopher Bell at JGR. Bell will race for the Cup title on Sunday, and Rheem has given no indication it will take punitive action against the organization for Jones' disappointing end with the team.
Ty Gibbs is a successful young driver: He won his NASCAR debut in 2021 and has 10 wins in 50 starts. He won the ARCA championship last season and has been doing double duty since July as the injury replacement in the Cup Series for concussed driver Kurt Busch. Gibbs will make his 16th Cup start the day after he races for the Xfinity championship.
But Gibbs has also been an aggressive driver — he even used the word “dirty” on Thursday to describe some of his on-track actions — and has been lambasted for multiple incidents even before Martinsville. He got in a fight on pit road with Sam Mayer in which Gibbs, while wearing his helmet, began throwing punches at Mayer. And NASCAR fined Gibbs $75,000 for a pit road incident in the Cup Series in which he nearly forced a competitor's car into personnel.
Coy Gibbs is the vice chairman at JGR and Ty is his son. He's defended him in the past, and while admitting the Martinsville race was “disappointing,” Coy Gibbs still had his son's back.
“Look, he’s my kid. I appreciate his aggression. But sometimes you got to pull back a little bit. This is a place where we need to pull back some,” Coy Gibbs said. “Just talked to him and explained to him that doing that affects not just him, it affects our whole company, all our sponsors, all the people we deal with, Toyota, obviously affected Brandon.
“Those are things maybe you’re not thinking of in that split second, but hopefully we can get with him and educate him on those things.”
Gibbs has a long way to go to change the perception he's created for himself, particularly as he's poised to move into the tougher Cup Series next season. He certainly seemed humbled Thursday, but knows he's got to prove himself on the track to change opinions and earn the respect of his rivals and JGR teammates.
“I have to face the fact that I made a mistake and I have to do the hardest of work to fix these issues,” Gibbs said. “I put myself in this position, I didn't have to make it such a hard week. And it really hurts me because it's my family's team, and we're one big family. All their hurt and anger affects me. I've gone over the scenario millions of times. If I could redo it, I definitely would.”
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