The NASCAR Xfinity Series had another memorable finish at Martinsville Saturday, as Ty Gibbs claimed victory by wrecking teammate Brandon Jones in NASCAR Overtime, costing Jones a spot in the Championship 4.
The final race of the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff Round of 8 was an ideal example of short-track racing. Championship 4 implications made the race dramatic right from the start. Track position was crucial, but there was plenty of bumping and banging.
Just ask Brandon Jones. Jones’ Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Ty Gibbs pushed him into the wall following the third restart in NASCAR Overtime and cost Joe Gibbs Racing a car in the Championship 4. Those in attendance at Martinsville Speedway let Gibbs know just how they felt about his decision, as his post-race celebrations were met with a chorus of boos.
1. Ty Gibbs making more friends
Gibbs has already made himself a controversial figure in NASCAR at the young age of 20. He made NASCAR headlines following the spring Xfinity Series race at Martinsville this year, but not for winning. Gibbs threw a few punches at Sam Mayer after Mayer moved him, keeping his helmet on when Mayer wasn’t wearing a helmet. The latter fact drew the ire of many racing fans and drivers. Fast forward to Saturday, Gibbs’ actions cost Brandon Jones and his own racing team, with *his name* on the team, a spot in the Championship 4. Brandon Jones is moving to JR Motorsports next season, but Josh Berry quipped post-race that Jones is “…going to be on team JRM a week early in Phoenix”.
Some fans booed, some fans chanted “THANK YOU GRANDPA!” at Gibbs in victory lane, and more importantly for Gibbs, every driver interviewed by NBC following the race voiced some form of displeasure for the 20-year-old’s actions on track. At this incredibly early stage in Ty Gibbs’ racing career, which is just beginning and will likely span the next few decades, Gibbs has made himself a pariah. He has developed a target on his back bumper through his actions, and that will follow him for years and seasons to come. It might just cost him a championship in Phoenix.
2. Short track racing at its finest
While the result of Saturday’s race isn’t a popular one among fans or drivers, this was a classic Martinsville race. Track position was crucial in the long runs, but even so, drivers were able to move through the pack. Austin Hill was a great example of this, marching from the back of the grid all the way to second place before being caught up in late accidents that damaged his #21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Until his teammate decided to push him into the wall, Brandon Jones dictated a lot of the race from the pole position.
There was plenty of tough but clean door-to-door racing throughout the race. Most notable was the playoff battle between Justin Allgaier and AJ Allmendinger, where both drivers battled for track positions several times throughout the race. In their last clash, Allmendinger had a tire cut down by the exhaust pipe of Allgaier, which dashed his Championship 4 hopes.
You don’t get this style of racing anywhere else. While tracks like Homestead-Miami or Darlington showcase NASCAR racing in what could be considered its purest form, Martinsville has grown a reputation for thrills, even if the results aren’t always the most desired.
3. Cautions breed cautions
The late drama and controversy of Saturday’s race was a result of a chain of cautions in the final stage of the race. Seven cautions broke up the flow of the final 100 laps, stacking up the field each time and creating more havoc each time. Several wrecks meant that Ty Gibbs clinched his playoff place with just about 40 laps to go. Surely, Gibbs was aware of this despite making his controversial move in overtime. Unfortunately for Brandon Jones, who definitely had the pace and the car to win at Martinsville on Saturday, the actions of those further back in the field kept bringing more yellow flags. It took three overtime restarts, but those caution flags inevitably knocked Brandon Jones out of the Championship 4.
4. NASCAR Playoffs work
Sure, the NASCAR Playoff system has plenty of detractors among race fans, that much is known, but it’s hard to argue the merits of the playoffs after a race like Saturday’s race. Championship implications dictated the day. Whether it was Ty Gibbs knocking his teammate out of the playoffs on the final lap of overtime, the cutline battle between Justin Allgaier and AJ Allmendinger, or Austin Hill’s improbable march from the back, the playoff scenarios played out tremendously at Martinsville.
Saturday’s race also solidified why Martinsville is the cutoff race for the Championship 4 in Phoenix. It is a stage for the dramatic, and the battles and scars last long in the memory of drivers and fans alike. Race teams might prefer a track where they won’t have to tape their car together to make the finish line, but NASCAR is about creating a show for race fans and getting eyeballs on the sport no matter the cost.
5. Your NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4
The #Championship4 is set! @joshberry, @TyGibbs, @NoahGragson and @J_Allgaier will race for the title at @phoenixraceway! #NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/4eOjxHIRwK
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) October 29, 2022
Saturday’s chaos has officially created our NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4: Josh Berry, Noah Gragson, Ty Gibbs, and Justin Allgaier. Three JR Motorsports drivers and one Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who could have had a teammate joining him had he not wrecked said teammate on the final lap. Sam Mayer, my prediction to win at Martinsville, will likely be playing the team game to help his JR Motorsports colleagues. Ty Gibbs might not have any friends out there on the track next weekend, making his path to a title that much tougher.
The Championship 4 is truly a coronation for JR Motorsports. The team has won a staggering 14 races, with eight of those checkered flags taken by Noah Gragson. Gragson’s dominance doesn’t come with another car in another team. While an incredibly talented driver, Gragson was often just the fastest car by some distance, a credit to his racing team and JR Motorsports as a whole. Sam Mayer was the only JR Motorsports driver without a victory in 2022, but not for the want of trying, finishing in the top 5 eleven times over the course of the season. Despite their success as a unit, there are no teammates on Championship Weekend.