Joey Gase picked up the 9th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s AutoTrader Echo Park Automotive 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #53 Explore Branson Chevrolet was collected in a multi-car accident after 29 of 334 laps.
The finish, which came in Gase’s 87th series start, was his second of the year and first since August 22, 2021 at Michigan, eight races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 22nd for the #53, the 623rd from a crash, and the 816th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 27th for the #53, the 1,277th from a crash, and the 1,812th for Chevrolet.
Hard crashes have unfortunately punctuated Gase’s Cup career, particularly this season. His last feature here in August came after his car darted straight into Michigan’s Turn 2 wall, and his vicious wreck last month in Las Vegas sent him to the hospital as a precaution. The lone highlight came in the XFINITY Series at Talladega, where less than a week after the Vegas crash, he drove his own Ford to a 15th-place finish with the support of his previous employer, Jimmy Means Racing.
For Texas, Gase would welcome back sponsorship from Branson, Missouri’s tourism bureau and travel company Lifetime Destinations. Branson had backed Gase’s Cup effort in Ware’s #15 at Kansas back in May, where the driver finished 35th in a different paint scheme. Featured prominently on this week’s purple-and-gold Chevrolet were logos for Branson’s Nantucket, a lakeside resort which just recently opened a new 10-story tower. According to a press release, Gase and his family had visited Branson this past summer and remarked on the variety of activities, including go-kart racing. Gase would roll off 37th.
Taking 39th and last on the grid was Timmy Hill in one of two cars fielded by Motorsports Business Management. MBM’s second entry, the #13 CrashClaimsR.us Toyota, had not been entered in a Cup Series points race since June 20th at Nashville, and David Starr had run it during the Open race at the same Texas track. Starr would also run Sunday, starting between Gase and Hill in the #66 ConnectUS / Kyocera Toyota.
The tail end of the field changed by race day as Starr was one of six drivers docked for twice failing pre-race inspection. Also sent to the rear were 6th-place Chase Elliott in the #9 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet, 26th-place Chase Briscoe in the #14 Rush Truck Centers / Cummins Ford, 29th-place Corey LaJoie in the #7 Schluter Systems Chevrolet, 34th-place Cody Ware in the #51 Nurtec ODT Chevrolet, and 36th-place Garrett Smithley in the #15 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet.
When the race started, Hill and Gase dropped back to the final two spots, each following new 38th-place starter Justin Haley in the #77 Alloy / Shave Logic Chevrolet, who was originally set to start 32nd. Hill and Gase were already running single file exiting the quad-oval with Gase trailing Haley by a few carlengths. By Lap 14, Hill was still in last and became the first river lapped by the leaders. He was on the verge of two laps down when the competition caution fell on Lap 25, and was shown one lap behind under the ensuing yellow. Scoring then reset on Lap 29 with Gase taking over last for the first time, shown as the only driver one lap down. Smithley took the spot the next time by as the field prepared for the Lap 31 restart. Seconds later, the battle for last came to an abrupt end.
Coming off Turn 2, Bubba Wallace broke loose while trying to race between two cars around the 15th spot. Wallace’s #23 Columbia Toyota made contact with the closing Ross Chastain in the #42 Chevrolet Accessories Chevrolet and Alex Bowman in the #48 Ally Chevrolet, triggering a massive pileup that instantly blocked the pack. While some slowed or even stopped exiting Turn 2, Gase seemed to be aiming for an opening up high with Haley trying for the middle. Both ended up running into other cars, destroying both of their Chevrolets.
Since Gase was the only lapped driver to suffer serious damage in the wreck, he was classified behind Haley and the other drivers involved. Gase took last from Smithley, who was the only member of the four-car Rick Ware Racing lineup to avoid serious damage, and the #53 was towed to the garage, out of the race. Teammate Cody Ware finished 38th behind Haley, and Ryan Preece finished 36th after his #37 Little Hug Chevrolet was sent spinning into the wall during the crash. Ryan Newman completed one more lap as he came in for repairs to the nose of his #6 Violet Defense Ford, but went to the garage soon after. In all, eight drivers were knocked out of the race in the accident. The last of these was Wallace, who turned eight laps with left-rear damage before he pulled behind the wall on Lap 42, taking 32nd. NASCAR’s garage official confirmed these drivers out on Lap 62.
Group of Underdogs Survive, Earn Strong Finishes
The big wreck opened up the opportunity for other teams to enjoy surprising runs. Most significant was a group of drivers over ten laps down who finished just outside the Top 20. B.J. McLeod finished 22nd in the #78 NASCAR ’21 Ignition Ford, the second-best finish of the year for Live Fast Motorsports other than McLeod’s career-best 9th under the lights at Daytona. David Starr’s 23rd-place finish was the best of the year for MBM, eclipsing a pair of 27th-place showings. Timmy Hill was not far behind in 27th, matching his own season-best at Indianapolis. Finally, Garrett Smithley matched his career-best 24th from last year’s Brickyard 400 in the only undamaged Rick Ware Racing entry, the #15 Trophy Tractor Chevrolet. Smithley passed wrecked Playoff driver Martin Truex, Jr. on the final lap of the race to take the spot.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #53 in a Cup Series ace since September 6, 2020, when Jams Davison lost an engine after 162 laps of the Cook Out Southern 500. Neither the number nor Gase had ever before finished last in a Cup race at Texas.
*This is also the eighth consecutive different car number with which Gase has finished last in a Cup Series race. After his first two came in the #32 with Go FAS Racing, he has since scored one each with the #83, #23, #66, #7, #51, #15, and now the #53.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
39) #53-Joey Gase / 29 laps / crash
38) #51-Cody Ware / 30 laps / crash
37) #77-Justin Haley / 30 laps / crash
36) #37-Ryan Preece / 30 laps / crash
35) #6-Ryan Newman / 31 laps / crash
2021 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Rick Ware Racing (6)
2nd) JTG-Daugherty Racing, Spire Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Roush-Fenway Racing (3)
4th) Front Row Motorsports (2)
5th) Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, StarCom Racing (1)
2021 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Ford (11)
3rd) Toyota (4)
2021 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
(UPDATE: Chart updated as it was missing Kyle Larson's 2nd Bottom Five at Talladega)