(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Xfinity Series driver Brennan Poole built a city in his darkest hour

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Lego City
                                                                                   (Photo by Brennan Poole)

Brennan Poole is reminded of one of the most stressful times of his career every night.

Sitting on a TV stand in his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a city block.

There’s more than five buildings. A barber shop, a pet store and a few houses.

The city – built by Poole in December 2014 – is made of Lego blocks.

What led a 23-year-old driver to construct such a feat?

Years earlier, Poole began racing at a quarter midget track in Rio Linda, California — the same facility four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon got his start. But after 217 wins and nine championships through six series, Poole was trying to distract himself from the possible end of his career because of lack of sponsorship.

“It was just something to keep my mind off of it,” Poole tells NBC Sports in a phone interview. “I couldn’t think, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t do anything. I would just sit there and build. I built like a city in a month.”

THE PHONE CALL 

Two months before he built his city block, Poole won what he thought was likely his last professional race ever, an ARCA event at Kentucky Speedway.

Poole was two years removed from a full season in ARCA driving for Bill Venturini that saw Poole win at Pocono Raceway and Elko Speedway. But then Poole’s sponsorship money evaporated.

The 2013 and 2014 seasons were filled with Poole working for Richard Childress Racing filming Dartfish video – a program teams use that allows them to overlay video of one driver’s lap on top of another’s.

He also served as spotter for ARCA and Camping World Truck teams, while occasionally driving for Venturini’s team.

“I believed something would happen,” Poole says. “I was still trying to find some funding. I got probably a million nos over those two years and kept working hard at it.”

Though he managed two ARCA wins in 2013 in substitution of John Wes Townley, nothing materialized. Poole made seven starts in 2014 for Venturini while continuing his Dartfish and spotting jobs.

Then came that last ARCA race at Kentucky.

“It had been two years of trying to find funding and trying to get a ride and I felt like I was winning races and nothing was happening,” Poole says. “I was kind of to the point where I was ‘Hey, if this doesn’t happen, I’m going to have to do something else.’ ”

What would that be? Poole had graduated from high school a year early and moved to Charlotte at age 17 to pursue his stock-car aspirations, living on the couch of Late Model stock driver Jamie Yelton until he was 18.

By age 23, Poole owned a house and was living off a credit card.

“I can’t stay in North Carolina,” thought Poole. “I’m going to have to go home. Go to school. I don’t know. I’m going to have to do something.”

A month after that last ARCA race, a phone call put Poole in a state of shock.

FORT WORTH, TEXAS - APRIL 08: Brennan Poole, driver of the #48 DC Solar Chevrolet, leads Austin Dillon, driver of the #2 Ruud/Smurfit Kappa Chevrolet, during the NASCAR XFINITY Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 8, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

BACK FROM THE BRINK

The unexpected call had been from HScott Motorsports about possibly driving the No. 42 Chevrolet, which was co-owned by Chip Ganassi Racing.

Soon after, the anxiety set in that would result in Poole’s Lego city.

“I didn’t think anything was going to pan out because I didn’t have any money and I wasn’t sure what the team needed as far as sponsorship or what was going to happen or if they had anything ready,” Poole says. “None of that was covered in the phone call.”

Around New Year’s 2015, Pool found out the dream wasn’t over.

With sponsorship from DC Solar, Poole would compete in 17 Xfinity Series races for HScott Motorsports, splitting time with Kyle Larson and Justin Marks.

“It was kind of a huge relief when I found out around New Years that it was going to happen,” says Poole, who keeps the Lego City intact to remember what it felt like to know he would race again. “I can look at it every night and think of that moment.”

The beginning of the 2015 season was surreal for Poole, who admits he doesn’t really remember his first few starts.

“It kind of messed me up mentally because it was hard to be focused because I couldn’t believe I was there,” Poole says. “From absolutely nothing, to being with this great team with a great sponsor … I was just in shock.”

Poole’s best results in his 17 starts were top 10s at Las Vegas and New Hampshire. Halfway through the season he already knew he’d be competing full-time in 2016.

When he showed up at Daytona this February, Poole looked like a new man. After an awkward episode the previous season involving pushing his shoulder-length hair out of his eyes through an open helmet visor, Brennan cut his dark locks.

He also had a new number on his car, the No. 48, selected by Chip Ganassi.

“I’ve always looked up to Jimmie Johnson as a kid,” Poole says. “I’ve been saying in the shop among my team, we’ve been saying ‘rise to the occasion,’ because if you put that number on the car, you’ve got some expectations to live up to, right?”

                                                                        TALLADEGA TENSION

Elliott Sadler, gets out of his car and celebrates after being declared the winner of the NASCAR Xfinity Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Talladega, Ala. NASCAR had to determine who was the actual leader when a caution froze the field in overtime. Brennan Poole (48) crossed the finish line first, but was denied his first career Xfinity Series win when NASCAR said the field was frozen with Sadler still ahead of Poole. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Brennan Poole is reminded about the “million nos” he received every race weekend.

He sees some of those companies sponsoring other teams.

“I was on the right path,” Poole says. “It was either that or I gave them the idea, right?”

Representatives of some of those companies were among those who lit up Poole’s phone after last month’s Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The text messages arrived after Poole was the first to take the checkered flag, appearing to have won his first NASCAR race in his 26th series start.

“It was ‘Awesome job, I can’t believe you won!'” Poole says. “Then five minutes later, ‘Sorry.’ ”

Poole didn’t see those messages immediately. He was sitting near the start-finish line, along with Elliott Sadler, waiting to find out who won.

When Joey Logano was turned into the frontstretch wall after contact with Sadler, the track’s caution lights illuminated. NASCAR had to determine the running order when the caution flag waved. For five minutes, Poole and Sadler sat in their cars waiting.

“The longer it took,” he says, “the more I thought, ‘Man, this might be a lot closer than we all thought.’ ”

The decision came. Sadler emerged from his car, striking a victory pose atop his car.

Poole drove away. He was scored third.

Poole,  two years removed from almost leaving North Carolina and the sport behind, has no hard feelings about that finish.

“It’s just kind of a bummer because you’re so close,” Poole says. “But a rule is a rule. I’m glad that the right winner took the trophy home. It just wouldn’t feel right if I took it home and really wasn’t the winner.”

But he still can be. After “a million nos,” Brennan Poole continues to dream.

NASCAR teams, groups approved for millions in federal COVID-19 loans

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Several NASCAR teams and related organizations were approved for between $150,000 and $10 million in loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPE), according to data provided Monday.

The U.S. Small Business Administration posted a list of PPP loan data on the U.S. Department of the Treasury website. The Paycheck Protection Program was included in the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was established to help businesses weather the financial stress of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Among the many NASCAR teams, racetracks and related organizations (with data including the range of the loan and the number of jobs retained):

* Richard Childress Racing ($5-$10 million, 334 jobs)

* Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates ($2-5 million, 179 jobs)

* Roush Fenway Racing ($2-5 million, 179 jobs)

* Roush & Yates Racing Engines ($2-5 million, 192 jobs)

* JTG Daugherty Racing ($1-2 million, 88 jobs)

* GMS Racing ($1-$2 million, 89 jobs)

* Kyle Busch Motorsports ($1-$2 million, 71 jobs)

* JR Motorsports ($1-$2 million, 88 jobs)

* Germain Racing ($350,000-$1 million, 41 jobs)

* Richard Petty Motorsports ($350,000-$1 million, 43 jobs)

* Dale Earnhardt Inc. ($350,000-$1 million, 55 jobs)

* DGR-Crosley ($350,000-$1 million, 67 jobs)

* Premium Motorsports ($350,000-$1 million, 46 jobs)

* Pocono International Raceway ($350,000-$1 million, 142 jobs)

* Hattori Racing ($150,000-$350,000, 16 jobs)

* Jimmie Johnson Racing ($150,00-$350,000, 8 jobs)

* Motor Racing Outreach ($150,000-$350,000, 9 jobs)

* Rev Racing ($150,000-$350,000, 12 jobs)

* Starcom Racing ($150,000-$350,000, 20 jobs)

* Kaulig Racing ($350,000-$1 million, 36 jobs)

* Mesa Marin Raceway ($150,000-$350,000, 16 jobs)

* Bill McAnally Racing ($150,000-$350,000, 19 jobs)

* Young’s Motorsports ($150,000-$350,000, 0 jobs)

* JD Motorsports ($150,000-$350,000, 0 jobs)

In a statement accompanying the data, the SBA said the data was for businesses that were approved for PPP loans but “does not reflect a determination by SBA that the borrower is eligible for a PPP loan or entitled to loan forgiveness. All PPP loans are subject to SBA review, and all loans over $2 million will automatically be reviewed.”

Contributing: Nate Ryan

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Bump and Run: Should Cup race on the Indy road course?

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Should the Cup Series remain on the oval at Indy or should it move to the road course like Xfinity did this weekend?

Dustin Long: I’d rather see what the Next Gen car could do on the oval before abandoning that for the the road course. Stay on the oval for now.

Daniel McFadin: I’m firmly in the #MoreRoadCourses camp and Cup should give Indy’s a shot. It doesn’t need to replace the oval race, but Saturday’s Xfinity race was more memorable than any Brickyard 400 in my memory.

Jerry Bonkowski: Both. I think NASCAR should hold a weekend doubleheader at Indy next season (and beyond), with a road course race on Saturday and oval race on Sunday. For even added measure, switch them around for every other subsequent year.

Chase Briscoe said before the season started he felt he needed at least 8 Xfinity wins to move up to Cup. He now has five victories through 13 races. How many wins will he get this year?

Dustin Long: Twelve.

Daniel McFadin: I had my doubts Briscoe could get to eight wins, mostly because he’d never had more than one win in his previous two Xfinity seasons. But he arguably should be at six wins. I think he’ll at least get to nine wins.

Jerry Bonkowski: I can see him winning nine races at least … and maybe as many as 12. He is definitely on a roll and no one else is even close to him, not just in wins but overall performance.

Kyle Busch has one win in the last 38 Cup races. Does he win in any of the next four points races (Kentucky, Texas, Kansas and New Hampshire)?

Dustin Long: No. Team hasn’t shown elite level speed to contend for wins. He’s led 130 laps this season and 100 of those laps came at Bristol. Can’t lead, can’t win.

Daniel McFadin: I think he wins one of them. If he doesn’t, then his team will be on red alert when teammate Denny Hamlin is on a roll right now.

Jerry Bonkowski: I think Texas offers him the best opportunity to win at in the next four tracks. He’s won there three times there in his Cup career (he’s also won three times at New Hampshire, which would be my secondary choice for Busch). There’s just something about Texas that seems to bring out the best in Busch and the No. 18.

Xfinity playoff grid after Indianapolis

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Chase Briscoe‘s continued dominance of the Xfinity Series over the weekend on the Indianapolis road course ensured no additional drivers locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Through 13 races, Briscoe and four other drivers have qualified for the playoffs via race wins. Briscoe, who has five race wins, leads the field with 28 playoff points.

The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Riley Herbst (+19 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+6 points).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-6), Alex Labbe (-32), Jeremy Clements (-49) and Josh Williams (-57).

Cup Series playoff grid after Brickyard 400

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With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.

But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.

After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.

Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.

After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.

With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.

Here’s the full playoff grid.