By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Much to the chagrin of the fans, Ty Gibbs capped off a dominant victory during Saturday’s finale at Phoenix Raceway. More importantly, the 20-year-old won the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship over a hard charging Noah Gragson.
It was no secret the Arizona crowd made it known they disliked Gibbs for his actions throughout the season. Even if Gibbs didn’t want the jeers, he had the last laugh.
“You know, 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. All my fault,” said Gibbs.
“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 (Allgaier) 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 much of the week leading up to Phoenix, all the talk was about his unpopular driving style that cost Brandon Jones a spot in the Championship 4.
Due to the incident, it brought a lot of anger from Toyota representatives and other folks. Some wanting Gibbs to sit out a race or lose an opportunity of moving up to the Cup Series full-time in 2023.
However, when it came down to the final restart, Gibbs was determined to not let Gragson or Justin Allgaier end up with the big hardware. Most importantly, Gibbs battled hard with respect which was viewed as admirable by both competitors.
Even when Gibbs had to deal with the lapped car of Sam Mayer (a JR Motorsports driver), Gibbs kept himself cool. As Mayer went wide and hit the wall, Gibbs had no lapped traffic anymore as it was just him and Gragson battling for both the race win and championship.
By the margin of victory of 0.397 seconds, Gibbs won the title and continues is Phoenix success dating back to the K&N West days in 2019.
“I focused out the windshield. I felt like we had a great race with those guys. Great job to JR Motorsports, but the 25 percent won,” said Gibbs. “Had an awesome time racing in the Xfinity Series this year, and looking for more and I’m very excited. We’re champions.”
After the race, Gragson went to the championship stage to handshake several Joe Gibbs Racing crew members and then congratulated Gibbs on the title.
Gragson, who expressed his dislike for Gibbs all week, admitted that he felt respect was earned and was beat outright.
“After the conversation in Portland that I had with him, we raced really hard at Pocono,” Gragson on Gibbs. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes and been overly aggressive, but Pocono proved to me that he does have the potential, and he’s very, very talented.
“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.”
With a title under his belt, the talk now shifts to Gibbs’ 2023 status. The imminent talk is that Gibbs will replace the departing Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota Camry.
President of Toyota Racing Development David Wilson simply said that Gibbs is ready for the big task at hand.
“He’s there. Because of his last name, because of the race team that he races for, obviously he is under a microscope, and he is always going to face — he has faced this question of does he deserve to be there, how much is he there because of his family,” Wilson explained.
“Anyone who really watches the sport and watches what he has done can easily recognize that he’s earned his spot, and he’s ready to go to the next step. There’s nothing more he needs to do. There’s nothing more he’s going to learn at the Xfinity level, given how radically different these cars are to the next generation cars.
“If you want to get really analytical, the one thing that he doesn’t have perhaps are the number of reps that a lot of his peers have, and the reps really help you with race craft at his level.
“But my gosh, he is a talented, talented young man, and he’s going to do some great things in the sport.”