Saturday, March 4, 2023

XFINITY: Mid-race mechanical issues set up last-place battle between Gase, Retzlaff, and Smithley

PHOTO: @JoeyGaseRacing

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Joey Gase picked up the 7th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Alsco Uniforms 300 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #35 Nevada Donor Network Toyota fell out with fuel pump issues after 156 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Gase’s 264th series start, was his first of the season and first in a XFINITY Series race since October 23, 2021 at Kansas, 38 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 6th from fuel pump issues, the 17th for the #35, and the 158th for Toyota. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 31st for the #35, the 32nd for the fuel pump, and the 390th for Toyota.

Gase’s most recent last-place run at Kansas turned out to be his last start for Jimmy Means Racing, followed only by a DNQ in the 2021 finale at Phoenix. By then, Gase had embarked on starting his own team, joining forces with fellow driver Patrick Emerling to form Emerling-Gase Motorsports. Carrying sponsorship from cryptocurrency Kitty Kat Coin, the Emerling-Gase team fielded two entries – the #35 and #53. Both qualified for the Daytona opener, sending nine other teams home, and Gase took 26th ahead of teammate Shane Lee in 33rd. The very next week, the team withdrew their #53, and for all but one race focused on the #35. Gase and Lee were among the nine different drivers to run the car last year, including upstart Brad Perez, road racer Chris Dyson, and team co-owner Emerling. Parker Kligerman earned the team’s best finish at COTA, taking home 12th in an unsponsored Toyota.

This year, Emerling-Gase makes another bid at fielding both cars, and have so far entered both the #35 and #53 in all three of the season’s opening rounds. Joining the effort was C.J. McLaughlin, who made the move from RSS Racing and brought with him much-needed sponsorship from Sci Aps. A crash at Daytona left McLaughlin 31st, followed by fuel pressure issues in Fontana that placed him 37th, and when he crashed his Chevrolet in practice at Las Vegas, Patrick Emerling took over as driver. Needing a backup car for Emerling to drive, the team borrowed the Ford that DNQ’d with Mason Maggio. Decals from McLaughlin’s Phoenix car were used to redecorate Maggio’s #66 HMY Yachts Ford. Sent home with Maggio was the #74 Lerner & Rowe Injury Lawyers Chevrolet of Ryan Vargas, still seeking his first start of 2023.

Gase, meanwhile, started the year with an 18th-place showing in Daytona and 29th-place run in the final race held on the Auto Club Speedway’s 2-mile oval. In the darkened garage after the race, the Emerling-Gase crew set to work peeling away the vinyl wrap for OneLegacy and the California Highway Patrol. Revealed beneath was a pastel-colored scheme for the Nevada Donor’s Network. The scheme, created by Jordan Tiegs Designs, would ultimately carry handprint stickers on the quarter-panels, continuing Gase’s efforts with organ donor awareness. The car ran 33rd of the 40 entrants in practice, but secured 37th on the grid in qualifying.

Patrick Emerling in MBM's renumbered car.
PHOTO: @MBMMotorsports

Classified last on the grid would be Patrick Emerling’s re-wrapped #53, which didn’t turn a lap in qualifying. Emerling’s was one of 11 teams to incur pre-race penalties – his for both the driver change and backup car. Also sent to back in backup cars were 3rd-place Cole Custer in the #00 Haas Automation Ford, 5th-place Josh Berry in the #8 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Chevrolet, 11th-place Kyle Busch in the #10 LA Golf Chevrolet, 12th-place Sheldon Creed in the #2 Whelen Chevrolet, 19th-place Brandon Jones in the #9 Menards / Jeld-Wen Windows Chevrolet, and 34th-place Gray Gaulding in the #08 Panini NFT Ford. Docked for unapproved adjustments were 28th-place Garrett Smithley in the #99 PCARx Chevrolet, 32nd-place Alex Labbe in the #28 G Coin / Larue Ford, 33rd-place Brennan Poole in the #6 Macc Door Systems Chevrolet, and 36th-place Ryan Ellis in the #43 Shine Water Chevrolet. For Smithley, this was his first start of the year following back-to-back DNQs at Daytona and Fontana.

During the pace laps, Emerling was instructed to line up last on the outside line, thus retaining his original 38th starting spot after all the pre-race penalties would be served. To his inside was to be Poole’s #6, but an apparent miscommunication kept the #6 from dropping back. When the green flag dropped, Poole was immediately black-flagged to serve a pass-through penalty. With Poole running 29th on Lap 2, Emerling remained last, 4.26 seconds back of the lead and 0.186 back of Ellis’ #43. On Lap 3, Emerling had just lost another tenth to Ellis and Poole was about to serve his penalty when the caution fell. Contact from John Hunter Nemechek’s #20 Mobil 1 Toyota sent Parker Kligerman into a spin in his #48 Big Machine Racing Spiked Coolers Chevrolet. Kligerman avoided contact, but did drop to last place on Lap 4. With Poole unable to serve his penalty before the yellow, NASCAR instructed him to drop to the tail end of the longest line for the restart, and he wouldn’t be allowed to choose his lane. Thus, Poole took last from Kligerman on Lap 6. “Alright, buddy,” said his crew. “We just get to pass more cars here.”

By Lap 11, Poole had dropped Garrett Smithley’s #99 to last for the first time. By then, Smithley was reporting a serious tight condition, saying he had “no front end positivity.” By Lap 17, he was 1.173 seconds back of Emerling’s #53. On Lap 26, Smithley said the “front end is just sliding across the track,” and the next time by became the first to lose a lap to the leaders. Around Lap 43, as Blaine Perkins slipped to 37th in his #07 Chevrolet, Smithley lost his second lap on track. The Stage 1 caution fell on Lap 46, and Smithley remarked “everything we did good yesterday from center-off is gone – it just won’t turn.”

Under caution, Smithley’s crew made adjustments, but the driver now felt a tight spot in his steering, indicative of a power steering issue. Moments later, the restart was called off when Joey Gase first found trouble. Gase’s #35 stalled on the apron of Turns 1 and 2, requiring a push back to pit road. On Lap 53, Gase was the first driver to go behind the wall, and the crew called for members of Emerling’s team to help examine the car. Gase took last place on Lap 54 as a crew member grabbed a cable. Back on the track, Smithley’s power steering problem grew worse when his car started smoking on track on Lap 56. Relaying that he didn’t think it was an engine issue, Smithley made it to pit road under green. There, the crew discovered the power steering fluid reservoir had broken from its bolts and lost its contents. The crew refilled the container as Smithley moved the wheel back and forth. Smithley’s car was still smoking as he returned to the track, but the smoke dissipated as excess fluid burned away. He was now eight laps down in 37th, but six laps ahead of Gase in the garage.

On Lap 61, Parker Retzlaff peeled onto pit road in his #31 Funkaway Chevrolet, saying he heard a loud “bang” and felt something come loose in the rear of his car. Retzlaff joined Gase in the garage on Lap 66, but Gase then returned to the track on Lap 70, 19 laps down to the leader. Smithley continued to run during these laps, allowing him to drop Retzlaff to 37th on Lap 72. Two laps later, as Retzlaff’s crew bolted on new right-side tires, the caution fell for Josh Berry’s spin off Turn 4. Retzlaff pulled back onto pit road under the ensuing yellow, showing him 13 laps down – 4 laps behind 36th-place Smithley and 7 ahead of Gase.

Under the Berry caution, Retzlaff was still unhappy with the sounds his car was making, saying he felt a grinding sensation before the loud “bang.” The crew told him to weave the car around to feel it out, then pull to the high lane and restart at the tail end of the field. On the restart, Retzlaff heard the scraping sound stop, then start again, but wasn’t concerned enough to bring the car back onto pit road. The Stage 2 caution allowed Retzlaff’s crew to take another look, but they didn’t see what was causing the grinding sound, and sent him back out. Entering the final stage, all 38 cars were still running with Smithley, Retzlaff, and Gase still holding the final three spots multiple laps apart.

Gase, still holding down 38th, reported a tight condition on Lap 109, and prepared to make a green-flag stop on Lap 132. Now 21 laps down, Gase completed his 111th lap of the day, which broke Mike McLaughlin’s 2000 record of 110 laps completed by a last-place finisher of a XFINITY Series race (excluding two disqualifications by more recent drivers). After a close call coming off Turn 4 where he was nearly clipped by then-leader Chandler Smith, Gase made his stop, but wasn’t satisfied all the lug nuts were tight. He pitted again on Lap 138 and took on more fuel, returning to the track 24 laps down. Curiously, on Lap 144, Gase was told he was still two laps short on fuel.

On Lap 154, Gase asked if anyone else had fallen out of the race. When he was told everyone was still running, driver and crew agreed to pull out if there were no more spots to gain. They set the mark of Lap 177, but that lap came and went as the spotter negotiated him through faster traffic. On Lap 181, around the time FS1 was showing footage of an errant garbage bag on the track, Gase reported he had something on his grille. “Nothing to gain, right?” said Gase, who pulled behind the wall on Lap 182. “Need some luck, goddammit,” said Gase as he pulled into the garage. On Lap 186 – just 14 to go – NASCAR officials confirmed Gase was out due to fuel pump issues. 

In those final laps, Retzlaff closed to within one lap of Smithley, but advanced no further, putting them 37th and 36th. Blaine Perkins was another five laps ahead in 35th with Emerling’s #53 taking 34th, two laps ahead of Perkins and six behind race winner Austin Hill.

Running a solid 16th, one lap down, was Kyle Weatherman, who substituted for David Starr in the unsponsored #02 Chevrolet of Our Motorsports. Combined with his most recent starts for Jesse Iwuji Motorsports in 2022, Weatherman has now finished 20th or better in nine of his last 13 XFINITY starts.

*This marks the second last-place finish at Las Vegas for both Gase and the #35 since March 2, 2019, when Gase’s #35 Nevada Donor Network Toyota – then entered by Motorsports Business Management – crashed after 1 lap of the Boyd Gaming 300.
*Gase is the first XFINITY driver to be classified last by a fuel pump issue since September 12, 2020, when Timmy Hill’s #66 Toyota fell out after 56 laps around Richmond.

38) #35-Joey Gase / 156 laps / fuel pump
37) #31-Parker Retzlaff / 186 laps / running
36) #99-Garrett Smithley / 187 laps / running
35) #07-Blaine Perkins / 192 laps / running
34) #53-Patrick Emerling / 194 laps / running

1st) Emerling-Gase Motorsports, JD Motorsports, SS-Green Light Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota (1)


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