Sunday, October 23, 2022

CUP: Chase Briscoe scores first last-place finish of NASCAR career

PHOTO: Jared Haas at Frontstretch, @RealJaredHaas

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Chase Briscoe picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #14 Magical Vacation Planner Ford was eliminated with crash damage after 160 of 267 laps.

The finish came in Briscoe’s 70th series start. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 41st for the #14, the 639th from a crash, and the 725th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 60th for the #14, the 1,001st for Ford, and the 1,313th from a crash.

The finish also gave Ford the lead in the 2022 LASTCAR Cup Series Manufacturer’s Championship. Ford hasn’t claimed the title since 2013 as Chevrolet has scored it every year since. With two races to go, Ford holds a one-finish lead over Chevrolet.

It was at Homestead on November 17, 2017 that Chase Briscoe scored the first win of his Truck Series career. At the time, he drove for Brad Keselowski Racing with Austin Cindric, and for most of 2018, the two would join Ty Majeski in sharing Roush-Fenway Racing’s #60 entry. All three struggled, but Briscoe found his footing with the Biagi-DenBeste effort, soon to be absorbed by Stewart-Haas Racing. It was with this team Briscoe scored his first XFINITY win in the first race on the Charlotte “Roval,” won again at Iowa the next year, and in 2020 dominated the series with nine victories. Only a sluggish performance in the championship race at Phoenix left Briscoe fourth in the standings, and Cindric as champion.

The following year’s Phoenix finale saw Briscoe complete a challenging rookie campaign in the Cup Series – a year where he nearly won at his home track in Indianapolis before he ran off-course, then crashed in the final race itself. This past spring, the same Phoenix track saw Briscoe return in NASCAR’s new NextGen car. After a thrilling late-race restart against Tyler Reddick, Briscoe came out ahead and scored his first Cup Series victory. He, Reddick, and now Daytona 500 champion Cindric would eventually be among the five first-time winners to have celebrated since, all advancing to the Playoffs.

After taking 27th, 13th, and 14th through the first round of this year’s Playoffs, Briscoe made his way past the first eliminations into the “Round of 12.” There, he finished 5th in a crash-marred Texas race, squeezed out a 10th-place showing in a relatively placid Talladega event, and in the closing laps of the Charlotte “Roval” had done just enough to beat Kyle Larson for the final spot in the “Round of 8.” Heading through the backstretch chicane for the final time, NASCAR concluded teammate Cole Custer checked-up on purpose, blocking the advancing cars of Erik Jones and Austin Dillon. Briscoe made it the rest of the way with now a two-point advantage over Larson, while Custer was levied a 50-point penalty for influencing the outcome. 

Despite the controversy, and team co-owner Tony Stewart’s frustrations, Briscoe arrived last week in Las Vegas, where he turned in a 4th-place finish – his best since the Coca-Cola 600. The run was enough to put Briscoe 6th in the point standings, just nine points from a spot in the “Championship Four.” Homestead – the site of Briscoe’s first Truck Series victory nearly five years ago – would be next. Coming into Sunday’s race, Briscoe had made a combined 183 points-paying starts in NASCAR’s three national series, running 69 in Cup, 86 in XFINITY, and 28 in the Truck Series. Not one had resulted in a last-place finish.

At Homestead, Briscoe’s weekend began with an 8th-fastest time in practice, ranking him fourth among Playoff drivers behind Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell, and Ross Chastain. This did not carry over into qualifying, as he ranked just 19th with a lap of 165.996mph (32.531 seconds), ranking him second-slowest of the Playoff guys, just three-thousandths of a second ahead of Chastain.

Securing the 36th and final starting spot was Cody Ware in the #51 Nurtec ODT / United Breast Cancer Foundation Ford. He’d be joined in the back by 29th-place Todd Gilliland, whose #38 EO South Florida Ford had steering issues on race morning, and 31st-place Corey LaJoie in the #7 Chevrolet. Ultimately, Gilliland crossed the stripe 32nd ahead of 33rd-place LaJoie. The 34th spot fell to Ware’s teammate J.J. Yeley, who debuted a new 360-degree camera on board his #15 Jacob Companies Ford, followed by Ware and new 36th-place runner B.J. McLeod.

McLeod, driving the #78 Frankie Zombie Z222 Motorsport Games Ford, entered the race with a series-leading four last-place finishes in 2022. This meant he could secure the LASTCAR Cup Series Championship by finishing last on Sunday. McLeod crossed the stripe in 36th, 3.379 seconds back of the lead, and fell to 4.069 back at the end of Lap 1. By Lap 3, he caught and passed Ware, but Ware responded by diving under him using the low lane entering Turn 3. Ware was fast at corner entry, but each time, McLeod pulled ahead off Turn 4. It wasn’t until Lap 9 that Ware cleared the #78, just as McLeod was catching Yeley. On Lap 13, Ware dropped Yeley to 35th, and McLeod started to reel him in. But by Lap 21, each of the bottom four runners were a second or more apart.

On Lap 28, McLeod was over three seconds back of Yeley when race leaders Kyle Larson and William Byron moved past to his outside. Yeley was just about to be lapped when, seconds later, John Hunter Nemechek spun the #45 Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota off Turn 2 and made light wall contact with the rear of the car. Nemechek, back in a Cup car for the first time since the 2020 finale, had stepped in for Bubba Wallace following his one-race suspension. Nemechek was fastest in opening practice and qualified 4th, but the incident ultimately dropped him to 27th at the finish.

Briscoe climbs from his car in the garage.

When NASCAR waved Yeley by, McLeod was awarded the Lucky Dog, and talked over the crew about an issue in the front of his car. He got his lap back on the 33rd circuit and dropped Nemechek to last on Lap 35, the #45 docked for pitting too soon after his spin. Nemechek got by again on the Lap 36 restart, and McLeod was now watching Yeley and Ware race for position. On Lap 39, McLeod battled Ware on the inside of Turn 1, but Ware held him off. Once again, it was tough work completing the pass. Despite a car that now handled better at the start of the run, it wasn’t until Lap 54 that McLeod passed Ware for 35th, dropping the #51 to last once more. Ware then lost a lap to Larson on the 64th circuit with McLeod now more than a second ahead. On Lap 81, the caution fell to end Stage 1, and Ware apologized to the team for struggling, requesting they go back on their previous adjustments to tighten the car. Ware also said running the low lane was likely burning up his tires.

On Lap 85, McLeod took last from Ware, followed by Gilliland under the continuing caution the next time by. Gilliland had a good restart, dropping Ware back to last on Lap 88, and Ware put McLeod back to 36th on Lap 90. “Starting to think I’m not gonna get the fronts [tires] back,” said McLeod. According to the driver, the car ran well on the first few laps of a run, then struggled for the 30 laps following. This proved disastrous as Sunday’s race saw few cautions, low attrition, and several long green-flag runs. All the while, driver and spotter remarked on how fast Larson’s car was, a Chevrolet that was on its way to leading 199 laps on its way to victory. “Oh yeah, this 5 is putting on a clinic,” said the crew on Lap 118. “He’s in another zip code.”

Green-flag stops followed, and Ware retook last on Lap 122 after he returned to the track. Two circuits later, McLeod pitted from 34th and took over the spot. The lap after, Landon Cassill took 36th after his #77 Zeigler Auto / LoJack Chevrolet had stalled sideways on pit road. Cassill fell three laps down before he returned to the track, still under green. Cassill caught and passed McLeod on Lap 127, and by now all 36 cars were still running within 3 laps of the leader.

The next driver to faulter was Justin Haley, who on Lap 138 pitted his #31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet with a flat right-front tire. The crew then had issues with the right-front single lug, and put on a replacement by hand before locking it down with the gun. Haley returned to the track in 35th, just barely ahead of McLeod, and promptly took 34th on Lap 149.

Briscoe (far left) out of his car in the garage.

Around this time, Chase Briscoe had made a miraculous save off Turn 2. But just moments after the replay, the caution fell on Lap 161 for debris down the backstretch. Briscoe had slapped the wall between Turns 1 and 2, and his car took a peculiar stance as it drove back to the pits, smoke trailing from nearly every corner. He made it to pit road, only for the crew to discover they’d broken a control arm. Due to a rule change by NASCAR, teams would not be allowed to make such a repair on pit road. Briscoe backed up from his stall as the team talked about going to the garage. When they realized going to the garage would end their day, they hesitated, and Briscoe came back to his stall. On Lap 164, at the very moment Briscoe took last from McLeod, NASCAR relayed “14 to the garage.” The official hesitated, perhaps considering if it was a mechanical issue that would allow them to return, then said “And that will be DVP on the 14.” 

With that, Briscoe’s day was done. Heading into next week’s final race of the “Round of 8,” Briscoe sits 44 points behind the bubble, making Martinsville a practical must-win to make the “Championship Four.”

The only other incident occurred to Tyler Reddick, whose solid run in the early laps was spoiled by multiple issues. On Lap 245, his #8 3CHI Chevrolet spun off Turn 2 and slammed head-on into the inside wall at the exit used be rescue equipment. Reddick climbed out uninjured, and promptly took over 35th. McLeod ultimately climbed past Ware in the final laps to take 33rd, the two remaining on the same lap. Yeley rounded out the Bottom Five, just behind Gilliland in 31st.

LASTCAR Cup Championship down to two drivers

With two races to go, the battle for the 2022 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship has come down to two drivers. B.J. McLeod remains the leader with four finishes, two more than two-time finishers Corey LaJoie, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs, and Austin Cindric. Busch, Larson, Wallace, Gibbs, and Cindric needed to finish last in all three remaining races to take the title, and all were eliminated when Briscoe took 36th. Wallace was eliminated when the race started due to his one-race suspension.

LaJoie is the only driver left who can take the title, but needs to sweep the last-place finishes at both Martinsville and Phoenix. Even then, he doesn’t entirely control his destiny:

To stay in contention, LaJoie must first finish last at Martinsville. McLeod will clinch at Martinsville simply if LaJoie doesn’t finish last in that race.

McLeod can also win the title if he finishes Bottom Five at Martinsville, no matter where LaJoie finishes. In this scenario, even if LaJoie finishes last at both Martinsville and Phoenix, LaJoie will still lose a bottom-ten tiebreaker of either 20-17 or 19-17, depending where McLeod finishes in each.

If LaJoie finishes last at Martinsville AND McLeod either gets a Bottom Ten or finishes better than a Bottom Ten, the title fight goes down to Phoenix. There, LaJoie will need to finish last again AND McLeod will have to finish better than a Bottom Five again. This would give LaJoie a bottom-five tiebreaker of 13-12, rendering McLeod’s Bottom Ten total irrelevant.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #14 in a Cup race since March 17, 2019, when Clint Bowyer’s #14 Rush Truck Centers / Haas Automation Ford overheated after 130 laps around Fontana. It was the first for the #14 in a Cup race at Homestead since November 16, 2014, when Tony Stewart’s #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet was involved in a crash after 182 laps.
*Briscoe is only the fourth driver to score his first Cup last-place finish at Homestead, joining Scott Pruett (2000), Matt Kenseth (2003), and Regan Smith (2018).

36) #14-Chase Briscoe / 160 laps / crash
35) #8-Tyler Reddick / 242 laps / crash
34) #51-Cody Ware / 262 laps / running
33) #78-B.J. McLeod / 262 laps / running
32) #15-J.J. Yeley / 263 laps / running

1st) Live Fast Motorsports (6)
2nd) 23XI Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing (4)
3rd) Spire Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (3)
4th) Penske Racing, Team Hezeberg, Trackhouse Racing (2)
5th) Kaulig Racing, NY Racing Team, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Ford (13)
2nd) Chevrolet (12)
3rd) Toyota (9)


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