MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Brandon Jones’ final bid for a seat in the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship race nearly had his Hail Mary moment at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday. He had the lead into overtime, a fast car starting from pole and seemingly friendly competition in teammate Ty Gibbs.
By the time the checkered flag flew, Jones’ lead was gone, his fast car was significantly shorter, and the word “teammate” was in quotation marks.
A riveting battle for a final 4th place in the championship came to a close at Saturday’s Dead On Tools 250 and Gibbs’ powerful last-lap surge in overtime sent Jones’ #19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and his playoff hopes up. Gibbs took his sixth win of the season, but Jones retired on a day when only a win next Saturday at Phoenix Raceway would have put him in the title race.
RELATED: Official Results | weekend schedule
Jones has just one race left – Phoenix – with JGR before joining Team JR Motorsports in 2023. “You guys are like family,” he told his No. 19 team on the radio, before adding, “I’m damn sure I’m glad to be away from this place.”
“Man, I don’t know. I didn’t expect to get caught in a (turning) shot. That’s for sure,” Jones said after the race. “Me and Ty have always been good friends but have lost all respect today. I know a lot of guys stand for him in the pit lane. So I’m looking forward to getting to Phoenix first and trying to win that race but then moving to JRM next year. I’ll have a good time over there.”
Gibbs added his name to the list of Championship 4 contenders before the end of the race thanks to the attrition that mathematically sealed his fate. He will fight for the Xfinity crown against JRM teammates Josh Berry, Noah Gragson and Justin Allgaier. Berry and Gragson clinched victories earlier in the round of 16, and Allgaier edged out AJ Allmendinger for the final playoff spot after a tenacious late-race position battle.
How Gibbs got there, however, was the buzz of south-central Virginia. A string of late accidents sent the event into a third overtime and the two JGR teammates – current and lame duck – had taken turns choosing the low lane for restarts, forcing the action three-sided and making full-contact bids for the lead and the win.
The last nudge was enough to send Jones’ Supra #19 backwards into the outer retaining wall. Gibbs scooped his first Martinsville Longcase Clock trophy but drew a downpour of boos from the home crowd.
“I feel like, you know, after we got pushed out of the way for the first time, I feel like that was on, we’re going for wins after that,” said Gibbs, who was the leader for 102 laps. “And I mean, when I went into Turn 1 I definitely didn’t want to clear him out, but I definitely wanted to move him. So I just pushed that line a bit too much.”
Jones took offense at the aggression level, especially since Gibbs was already advanced.
“He was locked up, right? I mean, it really wasn’t necessary,” Jones said. “I understand you want to win the race, you want to try. I want to compete against the best. I want to try to beat the best out here. But man you gotta give me a chance and a chance You know it’s not even a chance to race for a win and at least we could have raced side by side or something.
“So second place, last place didn’t matter to us today. We had to win the race. So that part of it is what it is, but I would have liked at least had a chance to go up against it and try to fend it off. For me, it’s fun to go door-to-door and do that, not just ruin someone.”
Had Jones won the race and secured an automatic berth, both Allgaier and Allmendinger would have been eliminated. Moving on, Jones’ bad luck was a blessing for Allgaier, who in fifth edged out 15th Allmendinger by 12 points for the last four places. He made it a point to offer Jones a comforting hug on the pit lane.
“Honestly, future teammate or not, he’s a good friend,” Allgaier said. “You know we missed making the last four last year just because of how the race went and I know the emotion on his part so I hate it for those guys. Obviously it was to our advantage, wasn’t it? It puts us in the race and (we) have a chance to go for a championship next week at a circuit that’s really, really good for us. But today’s race was definitely one for the record books. It was about as wild as I think you can get.
MORE: At-track photos | Championship 4 field
Allgaier experienced the chaos first-hand in a fender slam duel with Allmendinger, in which the two drivers swapped positions lap after lap. This dispute came to a head when Allmendinger’s No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet spun and slowed with a flat left rear tyre, just 17 laps from the regulations.
Allmendinger’s hopes of returning to Championship 4 were dashed, but he shook hands with Allgaier after their melee.
“I mean, that’s the format, and I thought it was fair,” said Allmendinger, a five-time Xfinity winner this season. “I leaned on him initially and he gave it back to me and we knew whoever was going to hit, who was going to make it how that was playing out at that point. So yeah I mean it’s disappointing that the hoop was cut short but I tried pinching it to somehow loosen it to see if I could free it. And you know that’s a possibility. So overall we did everything we could. Congratulations to them on making it and falling short.”
The result represents a one-sided Championship 4 field for Phoenix in terms of organizations involved, with three teammates from JR Motorsports taking on 20-year-old Gibbs, the sole representative from his grandfather’s team. Jones will replace Gragson next year on the No. 9 team, which has had its fair share of clashes with Gibbs during Gragson’s tenure.
“I’d be very, very angry right now if I was in the shoes of the 19s where he wasn’t smiling now and taking a picture next to a clock,” Gragson said. “He would be backstage with some extracurricular activities but that’s not my fight. I’m just happy that three JR Motorsports cars finished in the last four and I’m looking forward to driving for a championship. …
“I mean, I don’t think I’m the number one concern for the 54 right now. We were collected in his things. Pretty much everyone has Down Pit Road. Just move… scumbag and it will catch up to him.”