Gase’s ride on Sunday was owned by Archie St. Hilaire, who gave the 22-year-old driver his first XFINITY Series ride at Iowa in the summer of 2011. In the four years since, both driver and owner took steps to make their way into the Sprint Cup Series. In 2012, Gase joined Hamilton-Means Racing (now Jimmy Means Racing) to drive the #52 XFINITY Series ride owned by longtime owner-driver Jimmy “Smut” Means. Last year at Talladega, Gase earned a career-best 11th at Talladega despite overheating in the closing laps. In 2013, Hilaire entered into a partnership with FAS Lane Racing owner Frankie Stoddard, helping Stoddard’s single-car team continue to run the full season. The result, now called Go FAS Racing, enabled Gase to make his Cup Series debut in the #32 last September at Chicagoland, where he came home 37th in the Foreverhip.com / Zimmer Ford. Gase improved to a career-best 33rd in his most recent Cup start at Phoenix in November.
At Richmond, Gase was one of 45 entrants competing for 43 spots. An advocate of organ donation, his car carried logos for Donate Life, which also supported his XFINITY Series ride at Means Racing. Gase and Means finished 26th in Friday night’s XFINITY race. Gase’s Cup car was also one of many carrying visible tributes to the late Steve Byrnes, his Ford carrying his name was along the roof rails.
Gase timed in 41st in the opening practice session and 43rd in Happy Hour, but picked up speed in qualifying to earn the 35th starting spot with a speed of 126.541 mph. Missing the show were Brendan Gaughan - the fourth-straight DNQ for the #62 Premium Motorsports team - and Jeb Burton in his #26 Estes Toyota. During the race’s rain postponement from Saturday night to Sunday morning, Burton would trade rides with teammate J.J. Yeley on Sunday. This sent Burton to the back along with two other drivers - Cole Whitt, who changed transmissions, and Jeff Green.
On Friday, the 52-year-old Green, the all-time leader in NASCAR last-place finishes, had muscled The Motorsports Group’s #30 into its first Cup start since Atlanta, seven races ago, by putting up the 33rd-fastest time. For Green, it was also his first Cup start since Loudon in July of 2011, when he parked the unsponsored #55 Ford for Front Row Motorsports. TMG changed engines on the #30 before race day, taking the 43rd spot from last-place starter Reed Sorenson in Front Row’s #34 Dockside Logistics Ford.
Green held 43rd until Lap 3, when Alex Kennedy slipped to the back in Joe Falk’s brightly-colored #33 HonorandRemember.org Chevrolet. Kennedy, making his 5th start in 9 races, was the first to be lapped on Lap 20, but Green retook it when he made an extended green-flag stop on Lap 36. Green returned to the race 3 laps down on Lap 39 as the field continued to await the competition caution on Lap 50.
Then, on Lap 127, trouble found Joey Gase. Running 3 laps down at the time, Gase was bumped by Aric Almirola’s #43 Farmland Ford off Turn 2, sending the #32 into a spin that nearly collected Danica Patrick’s #10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet before he nosed into the inside SAFER barrier. Though uninjured in the wreck and his car not showing extensive damage, Gase climbed out and watched his machine be towed to the garage area. By the halfway mark, Gase was listed as officially out of the event.
Finishing 42nd Sunday was Josh Wise, who by 13 laps was spared his first last-place finish in a points race since joining Phil Parsons Racing. Electrical issues again plagued Wise’s #98, which brought out the third caution on Lap 139 after he stalled on the apron of Turn 1. Wise spent more than 20 laps behind the wall and returned to competition on Lap 159. Then, just four circuits later, Wise’s Ford lost the engine, spouting flames and smoke from underneath the hood. Wise’s car, which carried Steve Byrnes’ likeness on the hood, retired the same time as Gase.
41st went to a very frustrated Tony Stewart, who after a late spin with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on Lap 361 was left with his 4th bottom-five finish in 10 races. Like Gase, Stewart didn’t suffer much damage in his spin, but the car failed to re-fire, and he wound up at the back of the pack. Green and Kennedy rounded out the Bottom Five, both finishing under power 14 and 8 laps, respectively, behind race winner Kurt Busch.
*This was the first last-place finish for the #32 in a Cup race since last June at Michigan, when Travis Kvapil’s KeenParts.com / Corvetteparts.net Ford fell out with crash damage after he completed 23 laps of the Quicken Loans 400.
*This was the first last-place finish for the #32 in a Cup race at Richmond since September 11, 2010, when the late Jason Leffler’s unsponsored Braun Racing Toyota had brake issues after he completed 30 laps of the Air Guard 400.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #32-Joey Gase / 124 laps / crash
42) #98-Josh Wise / 137 laps / engine
41) #14-Tony Stewart / 359 laps / crash
40) #30-Jeff Green / 386 laps / running
39) #33-Alex Kennedy / 392 laps / running
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Landon Cassill (3)
2nd) A.J. Allmendinger, Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, Sam Hornish, Jr., J.J. Yeley (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #40-Hillman Smith Motorsports (3)
2nd) #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #9-Richard Petty Motorsports, #23-BK Racing, #32-Go FAS Racing, #47-JTG-Daugherty Racing, #88-Hendrick Motorsports (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Ford (2)
3rd) Toyota (1)