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Ty Gibbs has raced with remarkable respect through the first 13 points-paying races of his rookie campaign in the NASCAR Cup Series. However, an incident in the All-Star Open on Sunday at North Wilkesboro Speedway showed his aggressive nature still lies not far below the surface.

Gibbs started the open from the pole position thanks to his pit crew’s win in the pit crew challenge two nights prior. He led the first 43 laps of the 100-lap event until a competition caution shuffled him back.

Ty Gibbs and Michael McDowell traded contact in the All-Star Open

Gibbs restarted third on a Lap 57 restart. Michael McDowell moved in front of Gibbs’ No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing car from the high lane, but Gibbs pushed the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports car deep into Turn 3. The contact forced McDowell into the outside lane and led to contact with Justin Haley, who spun and collected McDowell in the wreck.

McDowell repaid the favor 20 laps later when Gibbs came around as the leader to lap the No. 34 car. McDowell forced Gibbs onto the apron in turns 3 and 4, which allowed Josh Berry to scoot by in the No. 48 car for Hendrick Motorsports. McDowell’s move ultimately cost Gibbs the win, as Berry led the final 23 laps and scored the victory.

Gibbs also transferred to the All-Star Race as the second-place finisher in the open, but his explanation for the incident with McDowell suggests he did not leave his controversial ways in the second-tier Xfinity Series.

“I, 100 percent, understand his frustration,” Gibbs said of McDowell after the race. “I moved him out of the way. They fenced us and completely wrecked us for 18th at Martinsville (Speedway) out of nowhere. It’s just a learning experience, I think. We will keep digging. We made it in, so that’s all that matters. It’s the Open. … Everybody’s doing Hail Marys and stuff like that. They all wadded themselves up in (Turn) 1. I understand his frustration, but at the same time, we got completely clobbered at Martinsville for 18th. I never said anything and never reacted. Just have to keep rolling and worry about the future.”

The future might look frighteningly similar to his past if he starts to get involved in deliberate on-track incidents once again, especially if he is to hold a grudge for essentially meaningless contact in a short-track race that occurred more than a month earlier.

Gibbs won the 2022 Xfinity Series championship along with seven race victories, but he made a lot of enemies along the way with his driving style. He was involved in controversial incidents with at least five different Xfinity Series drivers a year ago.

He fought Sam Mayer on pit road after the spring race at Martinsville that season and wrecked his then-JGR teammate Brandon Jones for the win in the fall race at the same track even though Gibbs had already secured a spot in the Championship 4, while the wreck ended Jones’ chances to race for the title.

Gibbs ran 15 races in the Cup Series last year as a replacement driver in the No. 45 car for Kurt Busch, who missed the rest of the season with a head injury he suffered in a qualifying crash in July at Pocono Raceway. Gibbs had a run-in on pit road with Ty Dillon at Texas Motor Speedway that cost Gibbs a $75,000 fine and 25 points, but he otherwise minded his own business and ran clean races.

Gibbs may be unable to hide his aggressive nature as the playoffs approach

Ty Gibbs at the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway
Ty Gibbs reacts after winning the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Open Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway on May 21, 2023 | Chris Graythen/Getty Images

He had done much the same during the 2023 season until Sunday’s flare-up with McDowell, who is now a new addition to his list of enemies.
“All that stuff comes around, man,” McDowell said in his postrace interview. “You get away with it a few times, but it comes around.”


Did the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Prove Times Have Truly Changed in the Cup Series?

Ty Gibbs has positioned himself 19th in the points standings with four top-10 finishes through the first half of the regular season and is in line to contend for one of the 16 playoff spots in the 13 races that remain before the playoffs begin. Whether or not he elects to maintain a calm demeanor and race clean during that stretch will be one of the intriguing storylines of the rest of the season.

He chose to use an exhibition race in the All-Star Open to exact revenge on a veteran driver for an incident potentially only he even remembers. Chances are high his familiar combativeness will show up again as the pressure of a playoff spot begins to rise throughout the summer.