Sunday, August 22, 2021

CUP: Joey Gase’s last-minute driver swap followed by hard hit at Michigan

PHOTO: @RickWareRacing

Joey Gase picked up the 8th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #15 Lisa Express Chevrolet was involved in a single-car crash after 29 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Gase’s 81st series start, was his first of the season and first in a Cup race since August 23, 2020 at Dover, 36 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 28th for the #15, the 618th from a crash, and the 813th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 45th for the #15, the 1,268th from a crash, and the 1,800th for Chevrolet.

Last season saw Gase run the most Cup Series races he’s run in any one season – 33 of the 36 rounds – and earned a career-best 17th in the fall Talladega race. This year, Gase made his third Daytona 500 start and managed to avoid the early pileup in Turn 4, drafting with his teammates to the finish for a 20th-place showing. He’s run just five races since then, most recently at Nashville, where his 29th-place run was his best run since the 500.

On Thursday, Gase reported he would be running the #15 in place of James Davison, having finalized a sponsorship deal with The Lisa Foundation, an organization that raises awareness of brain aneurysms. By Sunday, Bob Pockrass reported Gase will then drive one of Rick Ware Racing’s cars in all but two of the remaining 11 races in 2021, excluding only Bristol and the Charlotte “Roval.” 

Gase would line up 34th on the grid, but was one of two drivers sent to the back on Sunday for driver changes. The other was for Josh Berry, who ended up running triple-duty over the weekend after Corey LaJoie was swapped out due to COVID-19 protocols. Berry had lined up 24th in LaJoie’s Spire Motorsports entry, the #7 Nations Guard Chevrolet.

Rolling off 37th and last was another Rick Ware Racing entry, the #51 team that had finished last in the preceding two Cup races at Watkins Glen and Indianapolis. After the command to start engines, driver Cody Ware immediately had a problem – a crewman had accidentally knocked the hose off his coolbox, meaning he’d start the late summer race without air conditioning. Ware did not come down pit road for repairs, and addressed the starter’s stand for the green flag.

The penalized Gase was the last driver across the stripe, 3.409 seconds back of the lead behind Ware and Berry. Gase lined up last on the inside line, and gradually lost touch with the pack. By Lap 3, he was already 1.451 seconds behind 36th-place teammate Josh Bilicki in the #52 Ziegler Auto Group Ford. “Keep digging here, bud, keep digging!” said Gase’s crew the next time by. Regardless, Gase dropped to 3.448 seconds back of 36th place on Lap 7. By then, the 36th-place driver was the fourth member of the RWR team – Garrett Smithley – whose #53 Kendall Motor Oil Chevrolet had also lost touch with the tail end of the pack.

Both Gase and Smithley were running by themselves when the leaders caught them on Lap 15. The frontrunners ran the middle lane, then moved by to Gase’s inside. Smithley, several seconds ahead, was now 8.562 seconds back of 35th-place driver Quin Houff in the #00 YMCA / Creek Chevrolet. The leaders didn’t catch Smithley until just before the Lap 20 competition caution, which prevented Gase from getting his lap back. During the caution, Gase’s crew made several adjustments to fix a car that was loose all around the track, particularly at the entrance to Turn 3.

When the race restarted, Gase indicated his car was handling better. But on Lap 31, while coming off Turn 2, something broke in the right-front of the #15, sending Gase hard into the outside wall. “Hold onto it, bud – stay up, stay up, stay up,” said the team’s spotter as Gase stopped in the middle of the backstretch. The caution came out, and after a few moments, Gase climbed out of his car, done for the day. On Lap 34, as Gase’s car was towed to the garage, the team relayed the driver’s comments: “Said it felt like something broke under him, and it just took off in Turn 2. . .shot him straight into the wall, a pretty hard hit." NASCAR’s officials confirmed Gase was out on Lap 50.

Finishing 36th was a disappointed Austin Dillon, whose #3 Breztri Chevrolet was one of the fastest cars on the track. After battling Kyle Larson for the race lead en route to a 3rd-place finish in Stage 1, Dillon edged Brad Keselowski for 6th in Stage 2, only for Keselowski’s left-front to hook Dillon’s right-rear, sending Dillon head-on into the outside wall. Dillon walked away uninjured, but tumbled into the Bottom Five.

Dillon was passed in the late laps by Ross Chastain, whose #42 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet pulled into the garage with a reported fire in the rear end of his car. Also sent to the garage for mechanical woes was Anthony Alfredo, whose crew attended to the left-rear of his #38 Ford. Alfredo returned to the track before Chastain, and the pair crossed the line in 34th and 35th. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Joey Logano, who appeared to break a tie rod in the right-front after he spun out of the Top 10 on Lap 188. Logano’s six-minute “Crash Clock” expired, making him the only retiree from the seven-car incident.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #15 in a Cup race at Michigan since August 13, 2017, when Derrike Cope’s #15 StarCom Fiber Toyota lost the engine after 107 laps of the Pure Michigan 400.
*The last seven of Gase’s eight Cup Series last-place finishes have all come in different numbers. From oldest to newest, these were the #32, #83, #23, #66, #7, #51, and #15.

37) #15-Joey Gase / 29 laps / crash
36) #3-Austin Dillon / 120 laps / crash / led 2 laps
35) #42-Ross Chastain / 152 laps / running
34) #38-Anthony Alfredo / 178 laps / running
33) #22-Joey Logano / 188 laps / dvp

1st) Rick Ware Racing (5)
2nd) JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
3rd) Spire Motorsports (3)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Motorsports Business Management (2)
5th) Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (15)
2nd) Ford (7)
3rd) Toyota (3)


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