Let’s make one thing clear from the top.
Ty Gibbs is a man.
While the Joe Gibbs Racing phenom may look like a doppelgänger for 10-year-old Dash from The Incredibles movies (something he leans into with his Twitter profile picture), Gibbs is far from it.
He’s 19 years old and will turn 20 in October. While he’s still a year-and-half from being able to order a beer, Gibbs is an adult.
Which made the Ty Gibbs we saw on display last Friday (April 8) at Martinsville Speedway such a stark difference from the one we saw the week before at Richmond Raceway.
At Richmond, Gibbs forced teammate John Hunter Nemechek out of the way on the last lap with contact and raced to the win.
Afterward, Gibbs showed some mature self-awareness.
“I definitely deserve one back,” Gibbs told FOX Sports. “We’re racing for wins, and they’re hard to come by. I had to take it. […] We’re short track racing.”
That self-awareness went out the window six days later.
In the overtime finish at Martinsville, Gibbs had lost the lead to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Brandon Jones in the final turn. Then came a nudge from behind by Sam Mayer that moved Gibbs out of the way. Throw in a little help from Landon Cassill on the inside lane and soon the three of them were rubbing doors, enough to cause Gibbs to bounce off the outside wall.
The Gibbs at Richmond seemed like a man willing to take what he dished out.
At Martinsville, that wasn’t the case. He made contact with another car in anger on the cool-down lap, then rammed Mayer’s No. 1 on pit road. This resulted in NASCAR fining Gibbs $15,000 on Tuesday (April 12).
Gibbs then exited his car, confronted Mayer (forcing his way by a NASCAR official trying to keep the peace) and ultimately got shoved after throwing the first punch.
While I understand $100,000 was at stake and Gibbs and Mayer have a history from their time racing in the ARCA Menards Series, I feel all this would have been an overreaction from anyone given the same circumstances.
Since last year, everything has been coming up Ty Gibbs. This is probably the “worst” thing that’s ever happened to him in his career.
Then came the spin.
“I tried to talk to [Mayer] and he got all in my face, at that point we got to start fighting,” Gibbs said, as if we all hadn’t watched him walk from his car to Mayer’s, confront Mayer and take a swipe at him as he took his helmet off and then tried to walk away as events unraveled.
“It’s just frustrating, I got drove into the fence at the end,” Gibbs said. “I was on the other side of it last week, so that’s just part of it.”
If “that’s just part of it,” then why react like he did?
I came to this conclusion after thinking about it in the 12 hours after the race: Ty Gibbs is Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars.
After a year-and-a-half of success in ARCA and Xfinity (he has seven wins in his first 26 Xfinity starts) and people asking how quickly he’ll move up to the NASCAR Cup Series, Gibbs is the most-hyped driver in NASCAR right now.
He’s likely bought into it.
Combined with who he races for, the race team owned by his grandfather, Gibbs probably feels bulletproof at this point.
He thinks he’s “The Man.”
Which is where the Anakin Skywalker analogy comes in.
Twenty years ago next month, Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones was released. In that movie, Skywalker was 19 years old and believed to be the “Chosen One” who would bring balance to the Force.
That’s a lot of pressure!
After 10 years of hearing this hype about himself from the Jedi Order, Anakin had let it go to his head. Even the smallest of slights — like contact coming to the checkered flag — he perceived as a personal affront.
After Gibbs’ TV interview, all I could think of was this line from Anakin:
“It’s all Obi-Wan’s fault. He’s jealous. He’s holding me back!”
Things didn’t end well for Anakin.
Gibbs already has some people rooting against him because of his last name and the fact he’s never been without top-flight equipment.
At 19 years old, it feels like he’s already flirting with the Black Hat (Dark Side) path of another JGR driver who was a phenom at 19 and has a history of acting impulsively when he loses: Kyle Busch.
It’s still early for Gibbs.
But fans have long memories.
2022 is Daniel McFadin’s ninth year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his second year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can also be found at SpeedSport.com and FanBuzz.com. And you can hear more from him on his podcast, which is embedded below.
About the author
Daniel McFadin is a 7-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He's currently a freelancer and lead reporter and editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR show "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" on YouTube and in podcast form.
You can email him at email@example.com.
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