WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Ty Gibbs was poised to battle another Cup Series star for a NASCAR Xfinity Series win on a road course.
That was until things went awry in the inner loop at Watkins Glen International on Saturday afternoon.
On a restart with five laps to go, Gibbs wheeled his No. 54 Toyota in a fierce battle with William Byron side by side for half a lap. But the young Gibbs lost traction swinging from right to left, contacting Byron and sending both drivers plummeting from the lead battle to finishes outside the top 20. Byron finished 25th while Gibbs crossed the stripe 27th.
“Going into the bus stop two-wide definitely not ever works,” Gibbs said. “But I felt like I had to do it. I didn’t want to pull by and let him win. I felt like that was my only shot because I feel like we were both equally fast and I feel like letting him by, I’m gonna lose that gap in the bus stop and I don’t know if I’m ever gonna get that back for the rest of the race.
“So just trying to go for it. I feel like that was win or lose right there and if you would go back and look at it, we’re all pinched up on that curb and I just got loose and wrecked us both, so it’s my fault.”
Byron had his best restart of the race and kept pace with Gibbs, who battled and beat Kyle Larson for the victory at Road America on July 2. Down the backstretch, Larson — driving a near-identical No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet to Byron’s No. 17 for Hendrick Motorsports — gave Byron a helpful shove to help clear Gibbs.
Instead, Gibbs drove deep into the corner, a move that cost both drivers at the checkered flag while Larson won the race. Byron and Gibbs reconvened on pit road, and while Byron was frustrated with the result, came away understanding the circumstances.
“I felt like for as deep as I got into that bus stop, like with his angle, there’s no way he was going to make the corner,” Byron said. “So that’s just what I told him was kind of … he tried to match me into there and I still kind of felt like I gave him a lane on the curb. But he got in the dirt and once he got in the dirt, he was into my door.
“So I don’t know, just kind of two guys going for the win and a little bit of judgment maybe on his end, but, I just wish it wouldn’t have cleaned us out.”
Gibbs, an up-and-comer who will make his fifth Cup Series start Sunday (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) in place of an injured Kurt Busch, was pleased the conversation didn’t end with hurt feelings or worse.
“I feel like he was very mature in that situation and he could have probably punched me but he didn’t,” Gibbs said.”But you know, he’s a very, very mature and respectable driver as we’ve all saw with him coming through the ranks. But it was my fault and he just came up and asked me and I feel like I respect that. I just was going for the win.”