Entering Saturday night’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Phoenix, Brendan Gaughan and Darrell Wallace, Jr. were in a must-win situation to be able to advance into the championship finale at Homestead, but for both drivers, they would meet an early end after crashing out of the race with more than 50 laps to go in consecutive cautions.
Gaughan and Wallace entered the night with points deficits of 20 and 23 points, respectively, so the only way that they would be able to make their way into the Championship Four would be to win at Phoenix. Though they were both big underdogs to be able to do so, the two drivers gave it their all to try and win the race and advance.
Starting 25th, Gaughan had his work cut out for him from the drop of the green flag, but as the laps wound down on Saturday night, the race was looking to be determined by fuel mileage, so his No. 62 team elected to pit under a caution when others stayed out to try and stretch it all the way to the finish and possibly steal a win. However, the fuel mileage plan went up in smoke on lap 138 when he blew a tire down the backstretch and slammed into the Turn 3 wall, ending his night and taking his championship chances with it.
Ever the comedian, Gaughan kept a sense of humor about the situation in his comments following the crash, even though his title hopes were gone.
“That sucker blew like way up the straightaway, man. I swear I checked my watch twice before it hit the wall, thinking ‘this is going to suck’ and I said that three times. The South Point Chevy, if it stays green, it worked out like Shane and I wanted. We pitted, we had just enough fuel if I saved a little, and unfortunately we were the caution. We took a shot at it, we took a big swing, and I can’t ask for anything more. Shane Wilson (crew chief) will dig; I’ll live and die with him. He always takes care of me,” said Gaughan.
“It’s been fun to do. I wish we would have had a better second round of Chase races, but we’ll come back next year and try to do what we did in the first round through all three.”
As for Wallace, not only did he have to worry about trying to win Saturday night’s race to advance in the Chase, he was also dealing with a personal tragedy after the passing of his grandmother earlier in the week.
In tribute to his grandmother, Wallace put her name above the door and proceeded to deliver one of his best race performances of the season. Starting fifth, Wallace was a consistent presence in the top-10 throughout the race and found himself up toward the front of the field on the restart following Gaughan’s crash.
Trying to pass fellow Chase contender Blake Koch down the frontstretch on lap 149, Koch tried to pass Brad Keselowski at the same time, making contact with Wallace’s car and sending him hard into the inside frontstretch wall. Wallace’s car was destroyed in the crash and his championship dreams would have to wait for another year.
“My grandmother was giving me the ride of my life. That was the most fun I have had all year. Just circumstances took us out. It is just hard. Thanks granny, I love you. We will go on to Homestead and let her ride again,” said Wallace.
“Just thanks to my team for giving me the best race car all year long. This just sucks man. Granny was going to go win this thing on that restart. That was the sexiest restart we have ever had. We just had it taken away from us. About like what happened with her. Everything was good and the next thing you know she is gone from us. It was a long shot to get into the Chase but to have a good race and get a good finish – we need one. We have had the worst luck all year. It is so hard. I can’t thank my granny enough for giving me that ride. It was fun.”