The boos that greeted Ty Gibbs when he climbed from his Toyota Saturday night were thunderous.
But he didn’t seem to care.
The 20-year-old Gibbs had just won his seventh race of the season along with the biggest prize of all, the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity series championship.
The win came a week removed from his last lap dust up with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Brandon Jones at Martinsville Speedway. Gibbs had unceremoniously punted Jones from the lead and went on to win.
But there was a problem.
Gibbs had already secured a spot in the Xfinity Championship 4; Jones could have with a race win. The move left Gibbs facing three JR Motorsports Chevys in the final championship race instead of having a fellow Toyota driver, and teammate. The boos from the crowd started after that race at Martinsville and followed him all the way to Phoenix.
In the aftermath of Martinsville, Gibbs apologized and talked about learning lessons. Thursday at the Championship 4 media day, Gibbs said he had talked to Jones, and he understood his actions were wrong, adding that he was selfish, and if he had it to do over again, he would do it differently.
Going into Saturday’s race Gibbs faced a great deal of unfriendly competition. Noah Gragson was one of the Championship 4 drivers who was considered unfriendly competition.
Thursday Gragson didn’t mince words when it came to how he felt about Gibbs.
“I just don’t like him,” Gragson said. “I’m speaking what everybody doesn’t want to say.”
“I’m sick and tired of the ‘I’m sorry and I’m trying to learn’ deal,” he added. “It’s been two years.”
As for how he would race Saturday Gragson didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Race guys the way they race you,” he said. “I got no problem talking about it either.”
“Just race Justin Allgaier, Josh Berry, and the rest of the competitors that race you hard and clean each and every week which is almost all of them except for maybe one or two, with the mindset of ‘hey we’re going to race this thing and we’re going to be men’, and race clean and do it right.
“And then you got other ones where it’s ‘okay we know the situation, we know what they would do’ and you can’t let your guard down around them…you just got to know who you are racing.”
Saturday Gibbs showed his dominance early. He led a race high 125 of the 200 laps run and swept both Stages. But Gragson and his fellow JR Motorsports teammates Justin Allgaier and Josh Berry were never far behind. Gragson led some laps as did Allgaier.
The three drivers sometimes fought side by side and even three wide. Yet, all that racing was clean; no fenders were damaged, more importantly none among the leaders were punted out of the way.
In the end Gibbs was able to hold off Gragson and Allgaier for the win, and the title.
To that chorus of boos he heard at the start-finish line because of his earlier actions, Gibbs was forced to address the crowd.
“You know, what I did last week was unacceptable,” Gibbs said. “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. 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. Me and the 7 were racing really hard. I felt like hopefully we put on a great show for you guys, the fans, and thank you for all that you guys do.”
For his part second place Gragson still seemed to have an unfavorable view of his one-time friend.
“You know, I’ve had a conversation with Ty the day after Portland and Gateway and let him know how I felt, let him know if he gets into us, what the consequences are going to be,” he said. “I used to be buddies with him when he was younger. You know, probably three, four years ago, he was a super cool kid. He really was.
“But I don’t know, it’s just kind of changed over the last couple years, and I’ve told him that, and he knows that.
“I don’t want to really go into much more detail about that out of respect for him and whatnot, but I told him that hey, you used to be a super cool kid and you kind of turned into a little bit of a douchebag.”
But after racing hard and clean, Gragson said he hoped Gibbs had learned some lessons. Gragson had also sought Gibbs out after the race and shook his hand to congratulate him.
“He can still grow from it, and he did a great job,” he said. “They won the race fair and square today. It takes great people around you to learn, and I think he is capable. He has the potential to learn. He’s a great race car driver, and I’ve been in those shoes, too, where it just seems like you can’t do nothing right, and it’s you against the world and whatnot. But at the end of the day, I think he’s got potential, and he hasn’t reached his full potential yet off the track.”
For his part Gibbs was cognizant of the way he was racing, especially given his recent history.
“You know, I felt like the JRM guys, we raced really clean and really hard all day,” Gibbs said. “And there’s definitely times where all of us could have taken advantage of each other, but we didn’t, and we raced really good.
“Hopefully that puts — I earned some respect back, and hopefully the fans enjoyed it.”
With his potential move to NASCAR’s Cup series next season, Ty Gibbs, now a NASCAR Xfinity champion will need to continue earning the respect from his fellow drivers. If he has more clean races like he did Saturday, he might just be well on the way to doing that. And with it will come the quieting of the boos that shook the stands Saturday night at Phoenix Raceway.
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