By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Two of the sport’s hottest NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers went toe-to-toe Saturday evening at Pocono Raceway. And they both came out the other end.
It was Noah Gragson vs Ty Gibbs, with the former chasing the other. And though Gragson’s No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet had fresher tires, it was Gibbs who appeared to have the quicker ride.
“We were faster,” Gibbs said. “Even on the tire disadvantage, which I feel like shows how good our car was.”
With a long green-flag run to the end the 90-lapper from Pocono, Gibbs felt the disadvantage of dirty air. His No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was unable to complete the pass, however, threatened Gragson relentlessly until the drop of the final rag.
“I just couldn’t get clean air. It’s really hard to pass here,” Gibbs said. “But that’s just the nature of this place, I didn’t put myself in position to pass him, so my fault, all of my fault. I take responsibility.”
Part of Gibbs’ self-blame came on the final lap, when he maneuvered an attempted pass on Gragson down the Long Pond Straightaway off Turn 1. With Gragson clearing him from the outside lane in Turn 2, Gibbs felt apologetic after the move, coming home in second place.
“I put myself in a weird position through the tunnel turn [Turn 2],” he said. “I probably could have waited and packed air on him off the corner and got underneath him into Turn 3. But, I just made a mistake and I apologize to my whole team. I go out at every race with all of my heart and I enjoy every bit of it.”
As some saw the fierce, clean battle as proof of sportsmanship amongst the two controversial kids, Gibbs just see’s it as a race lost.
“I just didn’t win it. That’s the only thing I did,” he said. “It’s hard to race for maturity and race for wins and championships. It’s a fine balance. I just didn’t win it and it comes down to that. You can say I’m building maturity and sportsmanship, but I just didn’t win. We’re all out here to get the win.
“I’ll never be able to change anyone’s opinion. I can only do myself. Ten-year-old Ty wouldn’t believe where I am at right now.”
Indeed, with a series-leading three poles and four wins on the 2022 calendar, Gibbs is the front-running Toyota driver in the championship fight.