|SCREENSHOT: @NASCARONFOX, from USA|
by Brock Beard
Ty Gibbs picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at the Richmond Raceway when his #45 Jordan Brand Toyota lost the engine after 180 of 400 laps.
The finish came in Gibbs’ fourth series start. In the Cup Series rankings, it was the 23rd for the #45, the 177th for Toyota, and the 712th from an engine issue. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 43rd for the #45, the 381st from Toyota, and the 1,125th from engine woes.
The 19-year-old grandson of NFL and NASCAR legend Coach Joe Gibbs, the younger Gibbs has enjoyed one of the most rapid rises through the ranks of professional stock car racing. Just three years ago, he exploded onto the scene in ARCA, where he won the first two of 18 career victories in just 47 starts. In 2021, when he won the ARCA title – along with half the 20 races run that season – he also took the checkers in his XFINITY debut on the Daytona Road Course, where his winning pass was a daring run through the infield grass. He won three more races that year, and now full-time, has so far has taken another five – a success rate of nearly one win for every four starts.
Gibbs’ rampant success has played a role in an accelerating “Silly Season,” where Joe Gibbs mainstay Kyle Busch is suddenly not assured his seat in the #18 after the impending departure of sponsor M&M’s, and fellow Toyota team 23XI Racing revealed they had signed RCR driver Tyler Reddick for 2024. This news was quickly followed by a practice crash at Pocono suffered by 23XI’s Kurt Busch, who just weeks earlier scored the #45 team’s first win at Kansas. With Busch out on a week-to-week basis due to a concussion, John Hunter Nemechek was among the drivers considered to drive in Busch’s place. But Ty Gibbs drove Busch’s backup car at Pocono. Starting last in a NextGen car he’d never before driven in practice, never mind in competition, he came home an impressive 16th. He then ran 17th on the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit, and just last week at Michigan earned his first career Top Ten with a 10th, leading 2 laps in the process.
For Richmond, where Gibbs and Nemechek battled for the win during the XFINITY race this past spring, Gibbs joined an entry list of only the 36 Chartered entries. Of these, he ranked 27th in practice, then improved in qualifying to take 14th with a speed of 116.792mph (23.118 seconds). For the first time since Kurt Busch’s win at Kansas, the team’s paint scheme would be modeled after an iconic Jordan Brand basketball shoe – this time the Air Jordan 11 Retro “Concords.” Like the shoes, Gibbs’ uniform would have an embroidered “45” on the back.
Starting 36th and last was 2022 LASTCAR Cup Series leader B.J. McLeod in the #78 Blaster Ford. He’d incur a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments along with 30th-place Harrison Burton in the #21 Menards Dutch Boy Ford. Crossing the stripe to complete Lap 1, McLeod remained in last, 0.682 back of Burton, but backed off when the race for 30th came to blows. Coming across the stripe, Cody Ware’s #51 Nurtec ODT Ford locked wheels with Corey LaJoie’s #7 Built.com Chevrolet, the two chasing each other to the apron before they separated. By Lap 4, McLeod had caught back up to Ware’s teammate J.J. Yeley in the #15 Ford, closing from 0.849 second to 0.350 in a single lap.
The race’s first caution saw Tyler Reddick spin his #8 3CHI Chevrolet, which took over the 36th spot as he made it pit road without damage. Ware retook the spot seconds later as the crew looked under the rear of his car, perhaps at the rear diffuser panel that had deployed, likely after the tangle with LaJoie. When Ware returned to the track, he said “It’s broken. . .something’s off,” but was still able to keep in touch with the field on the ensuing restart. In fact, by Lap 11, Ware had passed both McLeod and Yeley, who now found themselves locked in a side-by-side battle for last place. That time by, the two were 0.032 apart, then 0.068 two laps later on the 13th circuit. McLeod finally cleared Yeley, only for Yeley to pull alongside again on Laps 16 and 19. The two remained just a few hundredths apart at the stripe until Yeley finally cleared McLeod on Lap 22, putting the #78 to last once more. By the 49th circuit, both were a lap down along with 33rd-place Reddick.
Still under green on Lap 67, as the leaders once again caught the tail end of the field, McLeod dropped Yeley to last, and the #15 remained in 36th when Stage 1 ended on Lap 71. Yeley reported he was losing right-rear grip, and the team talked him through a brake adjustment. Under the caution, Corey LaJoie, damaged in the early incident with Cody Ware, took over last on Lap 76 followed by McLeod again on the 79th lap. McLeod stayed in 36th until Lap 117, when he dropped Ware to last. By now, Ware was reporting handling issues of his own. “Whatever's going on with the left-rear. . .I can barely hold it open on the back straightaway,” he reported. “It's like the car's rotating toward the infield.” He had the crew look at his left-rear wheel, believing he’d bent a toe link.
But green-flag stops unfolded soon after, handing last to Landon Cassill’s #77 Voyager: Crypto For All Chevrolet on Lap 126, then Yeley on Lap 133, then back to Ware on Lap 134. Ware’s crew undid an earlier adjustment on his stop, then planned to put a half-round in the right-rear on their next stop. The green flag remained out, during which time Michael McDowell briefly plummeted to 35th for a stop with his #34 Chicago Pneumatic Compressers Ford. A second round of green-flag stops followed by Lap 174, when Yeley took over last, then McLeod – now 4 laps down – on Lap 179.
Around the time McLeod took over last, Ty Gibbs was running mid-pack when he started to lose power. He came down pit road, where the crew looked under the hood and saw oil. By Lap 185, the crew pushed him behind the wall, and with the rest of the field within just four laps of the leader, he dropped to last the next time by on Lap 186. The crew plugged in the laptop to download the car’s data, but were told to move their car out of the fire lane. As they tried to re-fire the engine, the crew then discovered a fire behind the left-front wheel, and put it out with an extinguisher. After another attempt to re-fire the car on Lap 197, the crew said on Lap 199 “We’re done.” “I had a fun time out there,” said Gibbs as he thanked his crew. NASCAR didn’t declare Gibbs out until Lap 284 as radio interference forced the message to be relayed three times starting on Lap 279.
Also declared out with Gibbs was Erik Jones, whose #43 Focus Factor Chevrolet suffered right-front damage in a Turn 3 incident involving Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. Cody Ware crossed the stripe in 34th, nine laps down to the leader, one behind 33rd-place McLeod, and two behind 32nd-place Yeley.
By electing to run the high lane, Ty Dillon enjoyed one of the best overall performances of his Cup career, and just days after Noah Gragson was officially named his replacement for 2023. Dillon ran as high as 12th and stayed on the lead lap until a commitment line violation on Lap 295 dropped him two laps down. He finished in 17th, the first car two laps down.
Also impressive was Chris Buescher, who prior to Sunday had never before finished better than 15th in 12 previous Cup starts at Richmond. Buescher was tracking down race leader Kevin Harvick in the final laps before his run stalled, and he was ultimately passed by Christopher Bell for the runner-up spot. Buescher’s 3rd-place finish was his first top-five since his runner-up at Sonoma in June.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #45 in a Cup Series race since August 12, 2007, when Kyle Petty scored his 16th and final last-place finish in the Centurion Boats at the Glen at Watkins Glen after the radiator ruptured on his #45 Marathon American Spirit Motor Oil Dodge.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #45 in a Cup race at Richmond since February 22, 1981 when Baxter Price’s #45 McWhirter Grading Buick lost the driveshaft after 16 laps of the Richmond 400 on the old Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway.
*The 180 laps completed by Gibbs are the 10th-most by a Cup Series last-place finisher at Richmond.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #45-Ty Gibbs / 180 laps / engine
35) #43-Erik Jones / 240 laps / crash
34) #51-Cody Ware / 391 laps / running
33) #78-B.J. McLeod / 392 laps / running
32) #15-J.J. Yeley / 393 laps / running
2022 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Live Fast Motorsports (5)
2nd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Spire Motorsports (3)
3rd) Hendrick Motorsports, Trackhouse Racing (2)
4th) 23XI Racing, Kaulig Racing, NY Racing Team, Penske Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Team Hezeberg (1)
2022 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Ford (9)
3rd) Toyota (4)
2022 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP