The highlight of the weekend for Joe Gibbs was seeing his driver Christopher Bell celebrating in victory lane. The 200th win for JGR puts the driver of the No. 20 Toyotas into the championship race next weekend. It is the first championship appearance for Bell, who did the unthinkable once again.
Facing a must-win situation, Bell delivered in an elimination race for the second consecutive time. It was the only way the team would advance, and they handled the pressure to perfection. It was a stark contrast to how the Xfinity race on Saturday played out.
Ty Gibbs, the grandson of Joe, was already locked into the championship round and was running in 2nd place behind his teammate Brandon Jones. The only way Jones could get into the title race was by winning, and he was just one turn away from doing so when it happened. Gibbs punted Jones into the wall, and ended his title hopes. It was a bad look for the 20-year-old as he celebrated to the tune of thousands of boos from the crowd.
Had Gibbs held his position, the Xfinity championship would be a battle between two JGR cars and two JR Motorsports cars. Now, it’s three JR Motorsports drivers against Gibbs. He won’t have any help at Phoenix, even from his own teammates.
The only downside for JGR on Sunday came at the very end of the race when Ross Chastain made a desperate dive bomb maneuver around the outside wall on the final lap. He used a sling shot move along the wall to sneak past Denny Hamlin right before the finish line, taking the final championship spot from the driver of the No. 11 Toyota.
Although Hamlin praised the “brilliant” move by Chastain, other drivers like Kyle Larson were not impressed. “That’s not a good look for our sport at all. I don’t know what you guys think. You probably think it’s cool, but I think it’s pretty embarrassing.”
It has been a wild year for Hamlin, having a win taken away at Pocono, being wrecked under caution at Texas, and having to deal with all of the issues with his own team. Bubba Wallace was suspended for a race and Kurt Busch essentially announced his retirement after dealing with his concussion. On top of all of that, Hamlin and Chastain have had several run ins on the track this season, and to have Ross pull that move on him today was more salt poured into the open wound.
Hamlin has accomplished a lot of things in this sport. He has 48 career Cup wins, which include numerous crown jewel events. He is a three-time Daytona 500 winner, but he will have to wait at least another year to have a shot at his first Cup championship.
The JGR organization was hoping to have two cars in the battle for the title next weekend. They will have one car in the hunt for the title on Saturday and another on Sunday. They are the only team that can make that claim, which is something to be proud of.