Brennan Poole had it made at the beginning of his Xfinity Series career. He was easily a top-10 contender while racing two full seasons for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Following the 2017 season, however, Poole got axed from his ride and was relegated to part-time opportunities in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2018 and 2019.
“I think people don‘t quite know that when I got my first Xfinity start, I went from running three or four ARCA races per year to battling Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson,” Poole said. “Those couple of years I was at Ganassi, I was just learning. I hadn‘t raced that much in a long time and I hadn‘t raced that level of competition in a long time. I had a big jump to get to and by the time I got to the point where I felt like I could win races, that opportunity was over.”
Poole made the most of his opportunities competing in lesser equipment, including a runner-up finish to Kyle Busch at Charlotte Motor Speedway, driving the No. 30 truck for On Point Motorsports. That run got Poole on the radar of Rick Ware Racing, where he spent the bulk of the 2020 season, adapting to the Cup Series.
Poole believed he was going to have among the best opportunities of his racing career in 2021 until a sponsor backed out before the season. A couple of months later, he broke his wrist in a snowboarding accident and only competed in one race during the season, primarily focusing on rehabilitation.
That led to a call from Mike Harmon, who wanted to up his Xfinity program for the 2022 season and get Poole back to the racetrack. It was counterintuitive, though, as the back-half of the Xfinity garage upped its overall performances and resources last season. Poole failed to qualify 12 out of the 19 attempts with CHK Racing. His efforts were highlighted with a 19th-place starting position at Charlotte.
“It made it tough, but I think a lot of team owners and a lot of people in the garage area saw what I was capable of in a car,” Poole said. “Mike is working so hard and doing everything old-school, trying to race because he loves it so much. I think it was good for me to see that because I hadn‘t been around racers like that in quite some time.
“If Mike hadn‘t given me that chance, I probably wouldn‘t have been full time this year and wouldn‘t have had the opportunities that I‘ve had to race on Sunday and wouldn‘t have been able to have opportunities to create something for next year too.”
Showing up to the racetrack and knowing the first battle is to just make the race can take a toll on a team. But Poole leaned on advice from 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski in that being present at the track could lead to improved opportunities. Those words of wisdom worked.
For three races at the end of the 2022 season, Poole joined JD Motorsports, in hopes of returning full time in 2023. The two sides struck a deal, where Poole became the team‘s primary driver in 2023, competing in 26 of 28 races thus far.
“Any time you can bring new eyes that have been outside of your parameter, they look inside and see things that you don‘t see,” Johnny Davis, team owner of JDM, said. “It continues to magnify and help the program grow.”
Poole‘s standout performance this season came at Talladega Superspeedway, outlasting the late-race demolition. He finished fifth, earning his first top-five result since the 2017 season. It was JDM‘s first top five since 2019.
As opposed to a handful of seasons ago, where JDM could run top 15 on a weekly basis, the competition has grown tremendously. The budget for JDM still lacks, meaning a perfect day at the track could lead to a top 20 finish. The team assesses itself as to where it finishes in comparison to DGM Racing and BJ McLeod Motorsports. But on weekends those teams have leased engines, even that can be incredibly challenging.
“Beating those guys with what we have to work with is a difficult thing to do,” Poole said. “It makes you better. It‘s making me better. If you look at the sport, there‘s only 36 guys that race on Sunday, there‘s 38 here that get to race here on Saturdays — in the world. To be one of those guys, it‘s special, rare and there are so many people that would love to have the opportunity to be here.
“I feel fortunate that I‘m still able to race because there‘s been many times in my career where I thought I wouldn‘t be racing anymore.”
With that outlook, Poole appreciates being in the NASCAR bubble more now and wants to continue racing into his 40s. He still thinks people in all facets of NASCAR believe that he can get the job done. It just comes down to sponsorship.
“I think he‘s outperformed us as a race team,” Davis said. “We got behind a little bit, just from the standpoint of not being able to find the money that we thought we could find and having outside support that we thought we were going to have.”
Poole is looking at 2023 as a season to reset his career. This is the most he‘s been in an Xfinity car in six years.
“It is a little bit of a reset to be able to be in the car every single week and know you‘re going to race every week,” he said. “That‘s been helpful to get back in the groove and back to the normal things. It is a long season and being able to battle mentally through those ups and downs and getting back to using it.”
Poole will make his sixth Cup start of the season for RWR at Talladega this weekend. His best performance thus far was at Kansas, when he was battling heads up against Stewart-Haas Racing and Kaulig Racing.
“That was a big confidence boost and knowing that I haven‘t lost my abilities, I just need the opportunities to do it,” Poole added.
Before the end of the season, Poole is hoping to squeak out a couple more top 20s on the Xfinity side, something he‘s done six times in 2023.