by Brock Beard
Brennan Poole picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #15 Finance Pro Plus Ford was involved in a multi-car accident after 93 of 163 laps.
The finish, which came in Poole’s 40th series start, was his second of the year and first since Darlington, 13 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 32nd for the #15, the 656th from a crash, and the 734th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 50th for the #15, the 1,018th for Ford, and the 1,349th from a crash.
Saturday’s race marked only Poole’s fifth Cup start of the season and second since the last-place run at Darlington. He last took the controls of Rick Ware Racing’s #15 entry at Nashville, where he finished 33rd, three laps down. The focus has instead been on the XFINITY Series, where he’s run most of the season in JD Motorsports’ #6 Chevrolet. Since Darlington weekend, Poole has finished all but one of his attempts – a crash on the road course in Portland that also left him in last place. The road courses have also seen some of his best runs, taking 15th at Road America and recovering from an early spin to take 12th last time out at Watkins Glen.
Poole was originally slated to run double-duty in Daytona, where he would follow-up his season-best 5th-place showing in Talladega. But his ride in the #6 went to Garrett Smithley, who finished 16th after starting third-from-last. Despite NASCAR’s lack of superspeedway practice sessions, Poole secured 34th on the starting grid with a lap of 178.518mph (50.415 seconds). With 39 drivers entered for 40 spots, no Cup teams were sent home.
Securing 39th and last on the grid was Indianapolis winner Michael McDowell, whose #34 Fr8Auctions Ford turned in the slowest lap by just over one-tenth of a second. Failing pre-race inspection were both Chandler Smith’s #13 Quick Tie Products, Inc. Chevrolet and Josh Berry in the #42 Sunseeker Resort Chevrolet, but neither incurred tail-end penalties, nor a pass-through penalty after the start. Smith qualified 36th with Berry in 29th. But during Saturday’s pace laps, 9th-place qualifier Ryan Preece had an issue with the power steering on his #41 RaceChoice.com Ford. The crew managed to fix a tight sensation in the wheel and send him back out, but he would incur a tail-end penalty as a result.
When the green flag dropped, Preece slotted in behind McDowell on the inside line, crossing the stripe 4.001 seconds back of the leader. Preece remained last at the end of Lap 1, now just nine-thousandths behind Corey LaJoie, whose #7 NEGU Chevrolet was alongside. Preece inched ahead of LaJoie at Lap 3 by 0.022 second, then dropped Michael McDowell to last on Lap 5. On the sixth circuit, the spot fell to Chandler Smith, who reported his #13 was a little free, but just 0.148 behind the now 38th-place LaJoie. Further ahead, Brad Keselowski pulled to the high lane, his #6 Kings Hawaiian Ford bailing out of tight traffic. Keselowski took last on Lap 10, but dropped 0.623 behind Smith. Keselowski then charged back at Smith using the draft off Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s #47 Boost by Kroger / Entemann’s Chevrolet, putting Smith back to last place. Stenhouse then bailed on Keselowski and moved two spots ahead.
On Lap 14, Chandler Smith suddenly lost touch with the other 38 drivers and plummeted to 3.487 seconds behind 38th-place Keselowski. Checking his digital dash for error codes, Smith wondered if he had an engine problem. The team believed the car only felt slow as he’d lost touch with the draft. By Lap 21, Smith was 22.773 seconds behind 38th-place Keselowski, and now counting down the laps to the caution that would end Stage 1. As the leaders quickly caught him, Smith was told by his spotter to hold the high lane, which he did on Lap 28 as the leaders whistled past through Turns 1 and 2. Smith then reported a possible fuel pressure issue, and his telemetry indicated he was lifting off the throttle down the straightaway. Smith made it to the end of Stage 1 on Lap 36, when he was awarded the Lucky Dog. After pit stops, last place fell to his teammate Justin Haley in the #31 Celsius Chevrolet.
The race restarted on Lap 41, where last place fell to Todd Gilliland in the #38 Boot Barn Ford. Gilliland then climbed past B.J. McLeod, whose #78 B’laster Ford was just 0.015 behind McDowell at the start of Lap 42. Both then dispensed with Ty Dillon, who on Lap 43 held the 39th spot in his #77 Gainbridge Chevrolet. It was on this same lap that NASCAR first reported a possible fluid leak from Gilliland’s #38, though he was cleared soon after. On Lap 44, Ty Dillon dropped McLeod back to last, and Brennan Poole took it for the first time on Lap 45. Poole then caught Gilliland, who was just 0.091 behind 38th-place LaJoie at the start of Lap 46. LaJoie took last on Lap 47, just over one-tenth back of Poole, while further up, Gilliland was told he could bail out of line if he felt uncomfortable. Gilliland declined, saying he could see better. Poole took last on Lap 48, and on Lap 51 was locked in a side-by-side battle with LaJoie, the two just 0.020 apart with the #7 running last. The next time by, 38th spot fell to Denny Hamlin, who three laps earlier bailed out of line and dropped his #11 FedEx Cares Toyota to 35th. Hamlin held off LaJoie through Lap 57, when Poole retook last place by just 0.013 second. That gap narrowed to five-thousandths the next time by, but McLeod took last from both of them on Lap 59, 0.031 behind Poole.
On Lap 60, Gilliland was again noticed for a fluid leak, and this time was black-flagged by NASCAR. LaJoie took last on Lap 61, and was again setting after Hamlin in 38th. But on Lap 64, Gilliland took the spot when he served his penalty just before NASCAR would stop scoring. While NASCAR officials reported no fluid at pit entrance, Gilliland’s crew pushed the #38 backwards up pit road, then behind the wall below the signpost for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Gilliland stopped for a moment, then was waved on to drive further into the garage. He stopped a few feet later, where the crew raised the hood. On Lap 68, Gilliland drove further into the garage, completed a 180-degree turn, then drove part of the way back. The crew again raised the hood and continued their work, wiping the windshield as they did. Radio traffic indicated a possible issue with the oil cooler, forcing the team to craft a bypass to get the car running. On Lap 78, Gilliland refired his engine and returned to the track, 15 laps down.
|Gilliland pulls behind the wall with an oil leak.|
SCREENSHOT: NASCAR Drive
Soon after Gilliland’s return, green flag stops began. During this sequence, both Poole and Hamlin were penalized for separate pit road infractions, forcing each to serve pass-through penalties. Also docked was Riley Herbst, whose strong early run in the #36 Monster Energy Ford was spoiled by his crew coming over the wall too soon. Herbst, Hamlin, and Poole ran by themselves on the track until Lap 87, when Hamlin and Poole linked up and dropped Herbst to 38th. Herbst then linked up with teammate Gilliland, and the pair went a lap down to then-leader Daniel Suarez as he entered Turn 3 on Lap 89. By then, Gilliland now had an overheating issue, reporting his water and oil temperature had reached 330 degrees. Soon after, the lead pack caught Hamlin and Poole. By Lap 95, as the leaders came down to complete Stage 2, Poole pulled ahead of Hamlin and Herbst in their battle for the Lucky Dog spot.
But coming off Turn 4, trouble broke out among the leaders. Contact from 3rd-place Christopher Bell’s #20 Yahoo! Toyota sent teammate and runner-up Ty Gibbs sideways in his #54 Monster Energy Toyota, which turned Gibbs into the right-rear of race leader Ryan Blaney. Blaney’s #12 Advance Auto Parts Ford cut right along with Gibbs, both striking the outside wall and triggering a massive pileup. Poole was running behind 15th-place Austin Dillon in the Lucky Dog spot when he checked-up in front of a fast-closing Hamlin, who clipped Poole’s rear bumper as he cut to the right. This contact sent Poole hard to the left, sending him careening into the inside wall, which he struck hard with the right-front corner. Both Hamlin and Herbst also spun in the chain-reaction while Dillon damaged his left-front wheel after striking a spinning Stenhouse. These were among the 12 drivers involved in the wreck.
|Poole's car towed into the garage after his wreck.|
SCREENSHOT: NASCAR Drive
After a nearly ten-minute red flag, the race resumed with Gilliland still in last – and in one piece – still 15 laps down. Poole’s car was among the first to be towed behind the wall, joined by Herbst, Cindric, Blaney, and Gibbs, who completed the Bottom Five. Poole dropped to 38th on Lap 97, and Gilliland put him in last place on Lap 111. Gilliland reached 32nd before his persistent overheating issue put him behind the wall for good in the final laps.
Spire cars and XFINITY stars impress under the lights at Daytona
After both contended for last place in the early stages of the race, Spire Motorsports teammates Corey LaJoie and Ty Dillon went on to finish 10th and 11th, respectively, both coming home on the lead lap. For LaJoie, it was only his second top-ten finish of the year and fourth at Daytona. For Dillon, who ran as high as 8th, it was his best finish of the year, improving on his previous mark of 14th in the spring race at Talladega, and was his best since he ran 10th in the Bristol Dirt Race last year. Dillon’s finish also came after a frustrating SpeedWeeks in February, where he became the first driver to finish last in both his Duel and the 500 since Bob Schacht in 1992.
Among the several XFINITY Series regulars competing in Saturday’s race, both Chandler Smith and Austin Hill were best in class, taking home 15th and 14th, respectively. Smith overcame his fuel pressure issue at a track where he’d failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 in February, and at one point raced as high as 3rd. In so doing, Smith successfully followed up a strong 17th at Richmond the week he scored his first XFINITY Series win. Austin Hill, who suffered a frustrating wreck while battling among the leaders in Friday’s race, earned his own career-best Cup finish in the #62 United Rentals / Beard Oil Chevrolet, besting his 18th-place debut for RCR at Michigan last year.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #15 in a Cup points race at Daytona since February 14, 2021, when Derrike Cope crashed out of the Daytona 500. The number hadn’t finished last in the 400-mile summer race since July 2, 1988, when Brett Bodine’s Crisco / Motorcraft Ford crashed after 1 lap of the Firecracker 400.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
39) #15-Brennan Poole / 93 laps / crash
38) #36-Riley Herbst / 94 laps / crash
37) #2-Austin Cindric / 94 laps / crash
36) #12-Ryan Blaney / 94 laps / crash
35) #54-Ty Gibbs / 94 laps / crash
2023 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Spire Motorsports (4)
2nd) Live Fast Motorsports, Penske Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing (3)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Legacy Motor Club (2)
4th) Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Trackhouse Racing (1)
2023 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (15)
2nd) Ford (8)
3rd) Toyota (2)
2023 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP