Ty Gibbs raced with remarkable respect during the first 13 points-paid races of his rookie NASCAR Cup Series campaign. However, an incident at Sunday’s All-Star Open at North Wilkesboro Speedway showed his aggressive nature was still far from the surface.
Gibbs started the open match from pole position thanks to his pit crew victory in the pit crew challenge two nights earlier. He led the first 43 laps of the 100-lap event until the competition caution brought him back.
Gibbs restarted third on Lap 57’s restart. Michael McDowell moved in front of Gibbs’ No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing car from the uphill lane, but Gibbs pushed the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports car deep into turn three. Haley, who spun and collected McDowell in the wreckage.
McDowell returned the favor 20 laps later when Gibbs came out as the leader to win the No. 34 car. McDowell forced Gibbs onto the apron going into Turns 3 and 4, allowing Josh Berry to navigate the No. 48 car of Hendrick Motorsports. McDowell’s move ultimately cost Gibbs the win, as Perry led the final 23 laps and scored the victory.
Gibbs also moved into the All-Star Race as the open-position runner-up, but his explanation of the incident with McDowell suggests he hasn’t let go of his controversial ways in the second-tier Xfinity Series.
“I, 100 percent, understand his frustration,” Gibbs said of McDowell after the race. “I got him out of the way. They fenced us in and completely wrecked us for 18th at Martinsville (Speedway) out of nowhere. I think it’s just a learning experience. We’re going to keep digging. We made it, so that’s all that matters. It’s the conquest. … Everyone does. Hail Mary and stuff like that. They all stuffed themselves in (Turn) 1. I understand his frustration, but at the same time, we were absolutely beaten at Martinsville in the 18th. I never said anything and never reacted. Just gotta keep rolling And worrying about the future.”
The future could look eerily similar to his past if he starts to engage in intentional crashes on the track again, especially if he holds a grudge over an essentially meaningless contact in a short track race that happened over a month ago.
Gibbs won the 2022 Xfinity Series Championship along with seven race wins, but he made a lot of enemies along the way with his driving style. He had been involved in controversial incidents with at least five different Xfinity Series drivers a year prior.
Sam Meyer battled it out on pit road after the spring race at Martinsville that season and knocked out JGR teammate at the time Brandon Jones to win the fall race at the same track despite Gibbs having already secured a spot in Championship 4, while finishing a wreck Jones’ chances in the title race.
Gibbs ran 15 Cup Series races last year as a replacement driver in the No. 45 car for Kurt Busch, who missed the rest of the season due to a head injury sustained in a July crash at Pocono Raceway. Gibbs had a pit road run with Ty Dillon at Texas Motor Speedway that cost Gibbs a $75,000 fine and 25 points, but he would mind his own business and run clean races.
Gibbs may be unable to hide his aggressive nature as the playoffs approach
He did the same thing during the 2023 season until Sunday’s flare-up with McDowell, who is now a new addition to his list of enemies.
“All of this stuff comes up, man,” McDowell said in his post-poll interview. “You get away with it a few times, but it comes.”
Ty Gibbs has placed himself 19th in the points standings with four top-10 finishes during the first half of the regular season and is in line to compete for one of the 16 playoff spots in the remaining 13 races before the playoffs begin. Whether or not he chooses to maintain a calm demeanor and clean racing during that period will be one of the interesting storylines for the rest of the season.
He chose to use an exhibition race at the All-Star Open to get revenge on a veteran driver for an accident he might only remember. Chances are high, his familiar fighting ability will reappear as stadium pressure begins to build throughout the summer.