Sunday, November 7, 2021

CUP: Early crash means early offseason for Bubba Wallace; Joey Gase secures LASTCAR championship

PHOTO: Brock Beard

Bubba Wallace picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Cup Series Championship Race at the Phoenix Raceway when his #23 Door Dash Toyota was involved in a two-car accident after 5 of 312 laps.

The finish, which came in Wallace’s 148th series start, was his first of the season and first since June 3, 2018 at Pocono, 130 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 37th for the #23, the 173rd for Toyota, and the 624th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 69th for the #23, the 368th for Toyota, and the 1,280th from a crash.

Coming into this season, there was no Cup Series team more anticipated than 23XI Racing, co-founded by Denny Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan. Combined with the Toyota Racing Development backing from the shuttered Leavine Family Racing and the Charter from the closed Germain Racing was Bubba Wallace, who parted ways with Richard Petty Motorsports after three full seasons. The team’s sponsorship spots were quickly filled with McDonald’s, Columbia Sportswear, Dr. Pepper, Root Insurance, and Door Dash.

Expectations soared during SpeedWeeks, where Wallace made a bid for the lead in his qualifying race and was among the leaders on the final lap of the Daytona 500 before he was collected in the final-lap pileup entering Turn 3. Driver and team continued to excel on the superspeedways, leading 16 laps in the spring race at Talladega and finishing runner-up for the Playoff cutoff race in Daytona after the disqualification of 2nd-place Chris Buescher. Then came the season’s biggest moment in October’s return to Talladega, where Wallace fought his way to the lead with rain approaching. When the race was called, Wallace’s maiden victory was one of several firsts: the first for sponsor McDonald’s since 1994, the first for longtime crew chief Robert “Bootie” Barker, and the first for an African-American Cup driver since Hall of Fame owner-driver Wendell Scott in 1963.

Other than Talladega, arguably the second-best overall race for 23XI took place at Phoenix in March. With then-crew chief Mike Wheeler, Wallace led four laps and raced up to 7th and passed Kevin Harvick during the final stage. It was Wheeler’s gamble to stay out on old tires that dropped the #23 back in the order, though they still managed to salvage a 16th-place finish. While out of the championship hunt for his return to Phoenix, there was the possibility of another strong run to close out the year.

Wallace began the Phoenix weekend with the 13th-fastest time among the 39 entrants in Friday’s lone practice session, clocking in at 133.615mph (26.943 seconds). He improved to a 135.008mph lap (26.665), but the rest of the field also picked up speed, leaving him 25th in the starting lineup.

Wallace after colliding with the wall.
PHOTO: Dominic Aragon,

Taking 39th and last was Timmy Hill, the only driver to not take time in qualifying. In this final race for NASCAR’s “Gen-6” chassis, Motorsports Business Management entered two Cup cars, putting newly crowned 2021 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Champion David Starr in the #13 Bob Menery / Ripper Magoo Toyota and defending LASTCAR Cup Series Champion Hill in the #66 Coble Enterprise / Darn Transport Toyota.

Hill’s chassis was the same one which struggled with various mechanical issues at Nashville, Las Vegas, and Kansas. While Starr qualified 36th ahead of the Rick Ware Racing entries of Josh Bilicki and Garrett Smithley, Hill had incurred a pre-race tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments and elected not to turn a lap. While the session was ongoing, the #66 was on jack stands in its garage stall, the right-front wheel removed. When Hill’s XFINITY entry for MBM failed to make Saturday’s race (where Starr again qualified), Sunday would be Hill’s only start of the weekend. 

The only other driver sent to the rear before the race - also for unapproved adjustments - was Josh Bilicki, a loss of just two spots from his scheduled 37th-place spot in the #52 Boom Mobile Ford. But during the pace laps, it was both Hill and 34th-place Joey Gase in the #53 Donate Life Arizona Chevrolet that dropped to the back, likely after indexing their wheels. The two sped to catch up to the tail of the field, and Hill was again last as they came down pit road to check their speeds. 

When the race started, Hill remained in last place, about one car length behind the field, and Starr fell to 38th soon after. Through Lap 5, Hill was losing even more ground, around two seconds back of the next car in line when his spotter told him to go low in Turns 3 and 4. Entering the corner, Wallace was racing on the outside of a three-wide battle with Corey LaJoie’s #7 Schluter Systems Chevrolet on his left-rear wheel, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s #47 Honey Nut Cheerios Chevrolet closing behind LaJoie. Heading into the corner, Stenhouse appeared to get in the back of LaJoie, sending him skating up the track into Wallace, who spun and backed hard into the outside wall. Wallace’s car stopped on the apron, and the driver climbed out, done for the day. “She was rolling,” said someone on Wallace’s channel.

Wallace’s car was towed to the garage through the entrance by the dogleg, and reached the hauler on Lap 15. The rear clip was pushed down, and the left-rear tire was flat. On Lap 24, team PR confirmed with me that Wallace had left the track after he was checked and released from the infield care center. Marty Snider at NBC had been first to the hauler, but left after he was apparently told the same. NASCAR confirmed Wallace was out on Lap 25, though the first radio message was cut off. Around this time, Wallace tweeted "Off season" with a twin beer glass emoji.

Wallace towed to the garage.

On Lap 39, as the 23XI crew cut away the rear of Wallace’s car and prepared to load up, Timmy Hill’s car passed by and pulled into his garage stall. Hill had continued to struggle for speed, falling off the lead lap, citing a serious tight condition. The crew brought out the jack stands and looked under the passenger side, then prepared to return to the race for another run on Lap 61. Hill’s starter failed, and he needed a push-start to get rolling again, which he did on Lap 67. Now 33 laps down, Hill reported his car was even tighter than before, believing they’d have to park if the race stayed green. The team planned to turn three rounds in the track bar, but on Lap 91, Hill reported he was coming back to the garage. He pulled behind the wall, and on Lap 98 was declared out by NASCAR.

Finishing 37th was Quin Houff, in what was the 164th and final Cup start for StarCom Racing. Houff, the defending last-place finisher of the race, drove the #00 Creek Enterprises Chevrolet, a car repaired from Texas. The Martinsville car – sponsored by Sim Seats – was also repaired following Houff’s tangle with Josh Bilicki, and would remain on the hauler as the backup. In the race, Houff lost at least four laps early, then on Lap 129 blew a right-front tire, sending him into the Turn 4 wall. The car was behind the wall soon after, and Derrike and Elyshia Cope left the track while the team finished loading.

Two more single-car accidents eliminated Stenhouse and the #14 Ford of Chase Briscoe, completing the Bottom Five.

Joey Gase – 2021 LASTCAR Cup Series Champion

With Wallace’s last-place finish, Joey Gase secured the 2021 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship, prevailing in a four-way tie for the lead with fellow three-time last-place finishers Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Aric Almirola, and Kurt Busch. Gase completed the season with eight Bottom Fives, coming ahead of Stenhouse, Almirola, and Busch’s four. Gase never led the standings until just last week, when he finished last at Martinsville. At Phoenix, he finished the race under power, nine laps down in 29th, second of the four Rick Ware Racing entries. This was Gase’s best finish since last month in Talladega, when he ran 25th.

Gase also happens to be the most recent driver to finish last in the #23 during a Cup race before Wallace on Sunday, which occurred at Darlington on September 2, 2018.

*This was the first last-place finish for 23XI Racing, and the first for the #23 in a Cup race at Phoenix.
*Wallace’s five completed laps set a new record for fewest by a last-place finisher of a Cup race at Phoenix. The previous record was set on November 15, 2009, when Tony Raines ran 6 laps before electrical issues on his #37 Long John Silver’s Dodge for Front Row Motorsports. 

39) #23-Bubba Wallace / 5 laps / crash
38) #66-Timmy Hill / 57 laps / handling
37) #00-Quin Houff / 122 laps / crash
36) #47-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 140 laps / crash
35) #14-Chase Briscoe / 153 laps / crash

1st) Rick Ware Racing (7)
2nd) JTG-Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Spire Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing (3)
4th) Front Row Motorsports (2)
5th) 23XI Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (19)
2nd) Ford (11)
3rd) Toyota (6)



Lou said...

I have followed Joey Gase for a while. Got his autograph years ago at Dover.

Chad said...

So Chevrolet wins both the NASCAR Manufacturers Title and the LASTCAR Manufacturers Title.