By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Ty Gibbs had to beat the best of the best to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race from Watkins Glen International. But he did, outlasting the stout field to win for the third time in 10 starts.
And as if Austin Cindric — an all-around road course ace with wins across multiple disciplines — wasn’t enough, 18-year-old Gibbs also had to hold off AJ Allmendinger, whose resume not only includes wins in the Champ Car Series in 2006, but even a NASCAR Cup Series win at The Glen in 2014.
For Allmendinger, it was the final pass for the lead that impressed him most from the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who passed his No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet on the outside of the penultimate corner with three laps to go.
And he did it without making contact.
“Ty did a fantastic job first of all,” Allmendinger said after finishing second. “He raced me clean, put great moves [on me]. I was doing everything I could to defend but he was smart. He didn’t use me up, he made a clean pass and I got to respect that.
“I felt like if he used [the bumper], he knew it was game on. But he didn’t and because of that, I’m not going to run in the back of him. He earned it clean. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Though Allmendinger praised Gibbs’ ability, the veteran also highlighted the fact that the No. 54 Toyota is the series’ winningest car in 2021, taking the checkered flag nine times amongst three drivers.
“That No. 54 car has like 12 win stickers on he side of it,” he said. “He’s got a lot of talent and he’s probably in the best racecar in the series for sure. Any time anybody gets in that car, it’s really quick.
“On a day like today, Ty earned it. I did everything I could, I got the restart on him every time and tried to fight him off. But he was a little bit too good and so was that car.”
2019 Watkins Glen winner Cindric could only manage third place, echoing Allmendinger’s comments on Gibbs and the No. 54 operation.
“I’m not going to put myself and AJ on a pedestal,” he said. “Obviously, we have experience and I expect to run up front, but I expect the Gibbs cars to run up front. It seems like whoever is in that No. 54 does a great job. Not to take credit away from Ty, he’s got a lack of experience and [yet] he’s done a great job with the track time he’s had.
“He deserved the win, he had the fastest car. When he was saving fuel, I felt he was saving his tires. I was trying to catch up but maybe I should have played that a bit different.
“He’s in Victory Lane. That’s what we’re all here to do. He beat all of us.”