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News

Brandon Jones wins at Kansas Speedway, as Xfinity Playoff drivers battle on and off-track

KANSAS CITY, Kan: After Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 took a sharp turn with 16 laps left, Brandon Jones sped away on two straight restarts to collect his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in a race that ended with Playoff drivers Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick brawling on pit road.

Jones stretched his advantage after a restart on Lap 196 of 200, with first Chase Briscoe and then Reddick giving chase. Jones held off both pursuers and crossed the finish line .272 seconds ahead of Reddick, with Briscoe .623 seconds behind the leader

“My foot was literally shaking on the accelerator on that last lap,” Jones said in Victory Lane. “I’m not even sure if I was wide open at the time that I was doing it. There was a lot of nerves and a lot of emotion going through my mind, but I saw it coming, and I was pretty pumped.”

Contact from Reddick’s Chevrolet forced Custer into the outside wall after the final restart, and Custer dropped to 11th at the finish. After both drivers exited their cars on pit road, Custer approached Reddick to voice his displeasure, placing a hand on Reddick’s shoulder.

Reddick responded with both hands to the collar of Custer’s firesuit, and the drivers fell to the pavement while grappling, only to be separated by crew members.

“I put my hand on him, and he just went berserk,” said Custer, who led a race-high 85 laps and won the second stage. “I thought we had a good car. I thought we had a chance to win.”

“If he puts a hand on me, I’m going to put a hand on him back,” Reddick said. “That’s just how it’s going to be if we’re having a conversation that way… It was just the heat of the moment—we’re pissed off. I’m sure we’ll talk about it here soon, maybe today, tomorrow.

“I obviously didn’t want to get into his quarter panel, but if I lift, I get passed. I hate that it happened to him, but we’ll try to move forward.”

Briscoe was leading, with pole winner and series leader Christopher Bell right behind when the two drivers closed fast on the No. 0 of Garrett Smithley on Lap 184. Smithley steered toward the top of the track and pinched Briscoe’s Ford into the outside wall.

With no room to maneuver, Bell plowed into Briscoe’s car, sending Bell’s No. 20 Supra sliding across the infield grass with major damage to the right front. Briscoe recovered to run third, after his crew replaced the rear bumper cover on his No. 98 Mustang, but Bell had to settle for a 12th-place finish.

Bell, however, retained the series lead by 11 points over Custer and 12 over third-place Reddick, as the “Big Three” remained comfortably above the cut line for the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Justin Allgaier ran fifth and is fourth in the standings, two points ahead of Briscoe.

Austin Cindric’s championship hopes took a severe blow when the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford tangled with the No. 18 Toyota of Harrison Burton on Lap 70. After an intense exchange of positions moments before, Cindric tagged the right rear of Burton’s car, turning it sideways.

But Burton remained in Cindric’s path, and both cars sustained damage when they collided in the middle of the track. Burton retired with a broken right front suspension. Ultimately, with a succession of unscheduled pit stops, Cindric finished 25th, six laps down, and dropped to eighth in the Playoff standings, 30 points below the cutoff for the Championship 4.

Jeremy Clements, Justin Haley, John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Sieg and Ross Chastain finished sixth through 10th, respectively.

Categories
XFINITY

Jones Builds Momentum in Chicago

JOLIET, Illinois — On the edge of the playoffs, Brandon Jones entered this weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway needing a good run to give some breathing room between himself and the cutoff.

After an eventful day, Jones was able to provide just that, capturing a fourth-place finish in Saturday’s Camping World 300.

The 22-year-old was a constant threat in the top-five all day, but did have to face adversity just past halfway when he received a penalty on pit road for speeding. Despite that though, Jones was able to rally in quick fashion.

“Yeah, I think we were two spots shy of what we really were capable of today,” Jones told POPULAR SPEED. “Kind of got behind that pit road penalty some. Got out of the box, looked down, I was way over my mark, so I knew it was coming. I told them just be ready for it. All in all, we fought back. We had plenty of laps. I wish we may have had one more stop. I think that would have really got us back in the hunt pretty good there. But all in all, man, that was a great day for us. Really what we needed to do. Finished great in both stages there and have a top five at the end of the day.”

He also believes that his experience from running the NASCAR Ganders Outdoor Truck Series race the night before behind the wheel of the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota helped learn in preparation for Saturday.

“It helped me for sure run on the top side,” Jones said. “I figured that out in the truck race what I was doing there, kind of straddling that top seam and then moving all four tires above it. I used that for the Xfinity car and it seemed to help today.

After the up and down season he has had, the top-five puts them in solid shape moving forward; however, the No. 19 team is still looking for more.

“I still want wins,” Jones said. “I feel like that this car was capable of running to compete for the win there today, and we just got to keep plugging along.”

His second top-10 in the last three races allowed him to move from 12th to 11th in the standings and is now 117 points ahead of the cutoff.

“It’s momentum. It’s confidence for the guys. It’s morale for them to go back to the shop, and I know they want to work for me as much as they can, but when we have good finishes, it’s kind of a bonus,” Jones said. “It’s kind of like, we can kick in the butt to try to get to that first position. So, we’re close. This is how we started at the beginning of the year. Nothing really happened except for that pit road penalty today, and that’s what we’ve got to do, minimize mistakes.”

Looking ahead, the Georgia-native is confident in his ability to the newly found momentum the upcoming schedule.

“We got some good tracks coming up,” Jones said. “Daytona, you never know what’s going to happen there. Kentucky has always been great to us, also.”

The No. 19 will look to improve on a third-place finish at Daytona that they scored earlier this season.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

While the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series continues to explore different packages to make the racing better, it seems the NASCAR Xfinity Series has the right method to the madness.

The hot temperatures on the Charlotte, North Carolina afternoon produced a slick race track, in return delivering the fans a show. With drivers searching for grip through the beginning stages of the event by using the middle lane that was coated in the traction compound, to trying to run as close to the wall as possible in the later half, there was a never a dull moment during the Alsco 300.

It also seems the flange-fit composite bodies being made mandatory for the 2019 season has made a big difference. While a bit of wall contact used to end someone’s day in the past, there is now the possibility to receive repairs and make a comeback. As a result, fans were entertained with seeing whether their favorite driver would be able to drive through the field, like Jeffrey Earnhardt overcoming a spin for a third-place finish.

As the tide continued to turn, nobody was able to throw Tyler Reddick off of his game. The master of rim-riding rose to the top in dominating fashion, pacing 110 of the 200 laps en route to winning the event. The defending series champion had a rough campaign en route to surprising at the year-end with the title last year. However, it seems he is leaving nothing to chance in using the lessons learned to finish races and do so up front.

His performance only shined that much more by the struggles of his closest competitors in the title hunt – Cole Custer and Christopher Bell. Custer finished 24th after contact with the outside wall late, while Bell placed 31st after running over debris and blowing a tire.

Ideally, though, Bell could’ve made his situation better by electing to head down pit road rather than ride around under caution with the flat, allowing it to blow the fender apart as it tore to shreds. His teammate Brandon Jones made the smarter decision in pitting immediately, and was able to fight back to run top-five late in the race before fading to 10th on older tires late.

The issues for both Bell and Jones could’ve been prevented if a caution for debris on the track was thrown by NASCAR. It seems that the sanctioning body missed the boat a couple times on Saturday, as they failed to throw the yellow flag late in the first stage for the same reason, resulting in nose damage for Custer. 

Kaulig Racing also raised a couple red flags today with their decisions. Austin Dillon had to get out of the car with 40 laps to go as a result of his ribs getting too hot from the heat, and carbon dioxide from crush panels being pushed in due to wall contact. The team elected to put Daniel Hemric in the car when Dillon’s complaints began. If you know there’s an issue, why would you put a driver in that is also scheduled like Dillon to run 600 miles on Sunday? 

On the flip side, it seems that JR Motorsports knows what they are doing as they placed all four of their entries in the top-seven at the checkered flag. Justin Allgaier led the way with a runner-up after taking four fresh tires late, while Noah Gragson overcame a pit road penalty to finish fourth.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway

Typically a race on an intermediate track can become boring as we’ve seen so far this year. Normally an event dominated by a single driver makes you want to fall asleep. Ultimately, the My Bariatric Solutions 300 for the NASCAR XFINITY Series was neither of those on Saturday afternoon. 

Right from the beginning, dramatics were in the air with three cautions in the first 17 laps. By having the teams practice in 80 Fahrenheit degree weather, followed by a temperature drop to 35 degrees over night, it’s no secret that teams were probably off on their adjustments. I mean, you had a veteran like Jamie McMurray just lose it off of turn four. When you’ve got conditions like that and having drivers pushed to the envelope to stay straight, you know you’re in for a show.

In the end, Ryan Blaney was dominate – leading 132 of 200 laps en route to earning the third straight victory for Team Penske’s No. 22 car, following the success of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Remember last year when everybody was simply asking the question when would they win again? 

Even though they’ve been fast, the diversity is still felt in the series with speed being shown by Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing in the first six races this year. It should make for a great season of racing. 

But with that said, it’s apparent based on Penske’s XFINITY Series success and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories that Ford certainly has their ducks in a row this year. 

Hendrick Motorsports is known for having some of the strongest motors in NASCAR with high reliability. Justin Allgaier, though, didn’t see that today as his day seen an early end with a trip to the garage following the first stage. It marks the first finish outside of the top-six for the JR Motorsports driver since wrecking in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. 

As a whole, it wasn’t the day that JR Motorsports was looking for, though. Elliott Sadler failed to post a lap in qualifying due to failing technical inspection, but fought back to place eighth. Tyler Reddick ran up in the top-five, but a pair of speeding penalties late relegated him to a 23rd-place finish. Lastly, Michael Annett ranked 15th at day’s end following an early unscheduled trip down pit road.

It should be easy for the group to brush off, though, as they currently hold three of the top-five spots in points and Reddick won the season opener at Daytona.

Ryan Reed turned a lot of heads in the first two stages as he ran in the top-10 solidly, in an aggressive fashion though as he ruffled some feathers along the way. Spencer Gallagher went for a spin at Lap 72 and stated afterwards, “It’s going to hurt when I get back to him.” But what did Reed have to show for a it? A 14th. It’s one thing to run up front, but it’s another to finish the deal. He needs to work at other half. 

Brandon Jones is wishing he would’ve had some better luck, too. He won the second stage after a nice strategy ploy to stay out for the two-lap shootout, but wrecked in the beginning stages of the third stage after restarting mid-pack. Simply put – he got loose, like many others today. After making the move over to Joe Gibbs Racing during the off-season, it kills the early momentum built as it his first finish outside of the top-17 in 2018. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

ASHLEY ASKS…… Brandon Jones

Making the switch from Richard Childress Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing, Brandon Jones has started off his NASCAR XFINITY Series campaign with a 10th and a 17th-place finish in the first two races.

Set to start 16th for the Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the 21-year-old shared his thoughts prior to the weekend.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts going into Las Vegas this weekend?

BRANDON JONES: So we got to kind of rebound from last weekend a little bit. Coming to JGR and switching over, it’s been really phenomenal. Been learning a lot in just the two races that I’ve ran for this team. So I think coming to this track, it’s not anything like we’ve run so far. It’s interesting how the schedule starts with these first few races. It’s a great way to tell where you are. So I’m looking forward to this week. I’ve had some success here in the Truck Series, and in XFINITY as well. It’s one of those tracks that fit for me. 

PS: How would you rate the first two races so far?

BRANDON: It’s difficult to do. Daytona is always pretty out there. We ended up getting in a wreck, but salvaging a 10th so we were pretty pleased. It was a pretty good rebound for the first race. Then in Atlanta, we were there performance wise. Also last week, we qualified seventh and I thought that was pretty good for myself as I’m not a real good qualifier. So pretty cool to see we were able to do that with one run each round each segment. So I’m pumped to see that. it’s just been good and bad. We just need to fix the mistakes and get the bad luck out of the way and we’ll have some good runs. 

PS: What are your goals for this year?

BRANDON: I’m not trying to make too high of goals, obviously. I just want to stay in the top-10 and try to finish these races. There are little things that can happen, like flat tires and stuff like that. So it’s about minimizing that and fighting for the top-10, top-five. If we can end each weekend in the top-10, that’ll be a good weekend for us. 

PS: What track are you most excited to get to in the weeks to come?

BRANDON: This is one of them, for sure. This is a track that obviously isn’t really worn out so there’s not a lot of tire fall off. As far as beyond that, I think Kansas is also one that I enjoy going to for the exact same reason that I like Las Vegas. Charlotte is also good to go to, just for staying there and living in Charlotte; it’s great to race close to home. Then I also enjoy going to Iowa. We’ve had success at that track in the K&N Series and the trucks, so those are probably the ones that I enjoy going to. Probably the least favorite and a track that’s hard for me is California, because it’s worn out and difficult to race on that one.  

PS: What’s been the biggest difference in going from RCR to Gibbs this year?

BRANDON: The biggest thing that I take from it and what I’ve been happy about is everything that I’ve learned, from the driver debriefs before and after the races and practice. That’s been a little thing that I’ve been thankful in the time that they’ve been teaching me, and how much I’ve already been learning just two races in. I think that’s been a big positive so far. Also, a lot of teammates to lean on and a lot of great ones. I mean, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin – those guys have been having a lot of success in the Cup Series, but they’ve been there to talk to as much as I want to. Being able to pick their brains is something that I think will help long term, from what they do on pit stops, and things like that.

PS: Who is your racing hero?

BRANDON: I was a Kyle Busch fan for what seemed like forever, so it was actually my goal to at least run for KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) a little bit in the Truck Series. Ironically, I got a few rides with them this year, so that’s pretty cool to be a part of with one of the guys that I’ve always liked growing up.

PS: Having some fun now, and letting the fans get to know you. What’s your favorite food?

BRANDON: I would say I’m a red meat guy. 

PS: Least favorite food?

BRANDON: I don’t know. I eat just about everything. Whenever I’m asked to go out, I’ll eat anything. I mean, even hunting, I would eat a squirrel. I would probably say something like Octopus. I do like Calamari, but if prepared differently, I would say that.  

PS: What is your coolest hunting story on that note, then?

BRANDON: I don’t really have any, really. A couple years ago, I was able to get my first gun and everything; now starting to get into a little bit the past couple of years now. I wish I had a little bit time off to do it. It’s just so time consuming to really get after something. It’s tough on our schedule. I felt like you get great stories if you do it long enough.  

PS: Dream vacation spot?

BRANDON: I don’t know. I’m not really one for vacations and I travel so much that I don’t really get into the vacation stuff. But we are going to go down to Florida during a week that we have and go down to south beach, so that’ll be pretty fun. But as far as vacationing, I’m not into too much. I’m about going to Arkansas and spending time with family. 

PS: What is your favorite TV show?

BRANDON: It’d probably be – it’s a tough one, but maybe American Grit. That’s a pretty good show. 

PS: If you were stuck on an island, what are three things you must have?

BRANDON: I definitely have to have some type of knife, a big long strand of 550 cord, and probably like a flint to get a fire started.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
Trucks

Kyle Busch Motorsports Expands Youthful Line-Up

In continuing with the trend of driver announcements over the past couple of weeks, Kyle Busch Motorsports announced the addition of three young drivers to their NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver line-up in 2018.

Spencer Davis and Brandon Jones will each run five events for the organization, while Riley Herbst with compete in a pair of races.

Davis will make his truck series debut this year, following four top-10’s in seven ARCA Racing Series starts last year. He also recorded one top-five and two top-10’s in three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts in 2017. 

“We saw Spencer have success last year at Talladega and the mile-and-a-half tracks that were a part of his part-time ARCA Series schedule and we feel that he’ll be able to continue that success running a similar schedule for us at KBM in the Truck Series this year,” Kyle Busch said. “He’s one of those kids that just loves to race and has gained experience racing several different types of vehicles in a variety of series. It’s hard to believe that he’s only 19 because he’s been competing in some of the same bigger Super Late Model races where I raced since 2012.”

Davis’ first race with KBM will come at Daytona International Speedway in the No. 51 Toyota Tundra on February 16. He will then also run the second event of the year at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 24, before competing next at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, and Michigan International Speedway on August 11. He will also drive the No. 4 Toyota Tundra at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 2.

“KBM is an established organization that has a history of producing winners and hopefully I can add my name to the list,” Davis said. “When you get behind the wheel of one of their Tundras it puts a lot of weight on your shoulders because you know the equipment is capable of winning and it’s up to the driver to get the job done. I’ve got five shots to get to victory lane this year and I feel like that’s enough to make it happen.”

Jones has been impressive to date, scoring 15 top-10 finishes in 35 career series starts, with a career-best second on three different occasions, most recently at Kentucky Speedway. He will be competing full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2018.

“Brandon has come so close to picking up his first Truck Series win the last few seasons and we know that his day is coming,” Busch said. “With running a limited schedule at KBM this year, it’ll be a big help that he’s already worked with Mike Hillman Jr., (crew chief). They know what to expect from each other and we are confident that they’ll be competing for wins in the four races they have together this year.”

Jones’ first race with KBM will come at Kansas Speedway on May 11 behind the wheel of the No. 51 Tundra. He will then drive the No. 51 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 29, Kentucky Speedway on July 12, Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 14. He will also compete in the No. 46 Toyota Tundra at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 18.  

“I have always wanted to be a part of Kyle Busch Motorsports, ever since they started the team and began racing at the late model level,” Jones said. “It’s amazing what they have done with Toyota over the years and how they’ve turned the organization into a championship-caliber team. I hope that I’m able to add some Camping World Truck Series wins to their legacy and to my list of accomplishments while racing with KBM this year.”

Herbst will be making his truck series debut after winning the ARCA Racing Rookie of the Year in 2017 after posting one win, one pole, 203 laps led, six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes for Joe Gibbs Racing; he placed fifth in the year-end rankings despite missing an event. 

“I’m really excited for the opportunity to advance to the next level and run a few races in the Camping World Truck Series in a Kyle Busch Motorsports Tundra this season,” Herbst said. “It’s pretty cool to join my fellow Las Vegas natives Noah Gragson, and of course Kyle at KBM, and I can’t wait to race in front of my hometown crowd at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September. I’m going to do everything I can to make the most of the opportunity and hopefully be able to get to victory lane.”

Herbst’s first event will come at Gateway Motorsports Park in the No. 51 Toyota Tundra on June 23, before driving the No. 46 Tundra at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 14.

“Riley did a nice job as a rookie in the ARCA Series picking up a win, running up front, and consistently finishing inside the top 10,” Busch said. “I’m excited to be giving another Las Vegas kid the opportunity to race in the Truck Series at KBM — especially knowing how special it’s going to be for him to race in front of all his friends and family at Las Vegas Motor Speedway later this year.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
XFINITY

Joe Gibbs Racing Reveals 2018 Driver, Crew Chief Line-Up

Joe Gibbs Racing is certainly going to be part of the discussion for race wins and the championship next year in the NASCAR XFINITY Series after revealing their 2018 driver/crew chief line-up on Wednesday afternoon.

“Our NASCAR XFINITY Series program is so important to us at Joe Gibbs Racing,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. “We are focused on the opportunities we have this weekend in Miami of course, but excited about the talented lineup of drivers we will have competing for us in 2018. The addition of Brandon Jones to our lineup will provide tremendous competition to the Series and give us two opportunities to run for the XFINITY Driver’s Championship, as well as the Owner’s Championship next season. For as young as he is, Brandon has gained a lot of experience across several different series and we are excited to see what he can do in our equipment and with Chris (Gabehart) leading that team.”

As announced last month, Christopher Bell will run his first full schedule in the XFINITY Series behind the wheel of the No. 20 Toyota Tundra. Bell is one of the drivers in the Championship 4 for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title this weekend, and scored his first career XFINITY win at Kansas Speedway in October. 

Serving as the team’s crew chief will be Jason Ratcliff, who has spent the past five years calling the shots for Matt Kenseth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Ratcliff led the No. 20 to eight wins and best points standings finish of second in 2013. 

Brandon Jones will move from Richard Childress Racing to JGR in 2018 to drive the No. 19 Toyota Camry full-time. Jones is currently in the midst of his second full season of XFINITY competition, currently 16th in the standings with three top-10’s; he finished 10th in points last year.

“I’m really fortunate to have gotten as much experience as I have to this point of my career and very thankful to have worked with so many great people and teams over the past several years,” said Jones. “When you look at what JGR has done with Toyota in the XFINITY Series over the past decade the results speak for themselves and I’m excited to go out next season knowing I have an opportunity to be successful each and every week.”

Chris Gabehart will call the shots for Jones, as he enters his second season on top of the box. Gabehart has been successful to date, scoring nine wins and 39 top-10’s in 64 races, including a fourth-place standings result with Erik Jones in 2016.

The organization will also continue to field a third entry, which will see their Cup drivers split time behind the wheel. Kyle Busch is expected to run seven races, along with fellow stars Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, and Denny Hamlin. Also on-board to run some of the events is Ryan Preece with at least 10 races on his schedule in 2018. He ran three events in 2017, scoring his first series victory at Iowa Speedway. 

“Obviously I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities that I have already had with JGR this season and now to be able to increase the number of races next season is a great step in my career,” said Preece. “I’m looking forward to going out there and make the most out of the opportunity.”

Eric Phillips will be the crew chief, entering his third season on the pit box with the team. He led Suarez to a fifth-place points finish in 2015, before scoring five victories (four with Busch, one with Hamlin) this season. 

“We’re proud of our crew chiefs in that series as well,” Gibbs added. “Jason (Ratcliff) is someone we obviously have a lot of confidence in having had great success for us in both the XFINITY and Cup Series. Having Chris (Gabehart) and Eric (Phillips) back gives us proven winners atop each pit box. We believe their experience and ability to work together will really help the development of our young drivers and help our veterans compete for wins each weekend.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
Commentary

XFINITY SERIES: Five on Five

The Five on Five feature will break down some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here’s a peek at Texas through Charlotte.

Cup Driver Domination

While there were five winners from five different teams in the first two months of XFINITY Series competition, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers took over victory lane through April and May.

Joe Gibbs Racing went two in a row with Erik Jones winning Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway to bring their title win total up to three. Kyle Larson snagged a second win for Chip Ganassi Racing at Richmond, with Aric Almirola giving Biagi-DenBeste Racing a victory at Talladega. Lastly, Ryan Blaney scored the win this past weekend at Charlotte for Team Penske’s second of 2017.

Although Cup Series drivers swept the past two months, the series regulars were close to succeeding with a pair of runner-ups.

As we near the Chase, there will be more XFINITY competitors scoring victories with the upcoming stand-alone events, including Iowa Speedway and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

JRM Remains at the Top

10 events completed this season, and the top of the standings hasn’t shifted much as JR Motorsports still take up the top three positions as they have since the third race of 2017.

Elliott Sadler has led since the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, currently six points ahead of Justin Allgaier. William Byron rounds out the squad, having fallen 57-markers behind Sadler.

Their strength shows in the numbers, with Allgaier posting the best average finish through April and May at 9.8 on the heels of two runner-ups, while Sadler posted the second highest at 11.6. Sadler has performed better, though, as removing the wreck at Charlotte bring his average down to 5.75.

JR Motorsports’ fourth entry has yet to make much headway with Michael Annett currently ninth in points. While he posted, three top-10’s in the past five events, a wreck at Charlotte Motor Speedway hurt progress in moving forward.

Terrific Tifft

If you are looking for someone to watch, keep an eye on Matt Tifft as he was the third-highest performer over the past three races, boasting an average of 14.2 with a season-best finish of sixth at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is running the complete schedule for the first time, after making 11 starts over the past two years with five top-10’s. With steady improvement each week, he believes he could be the next driver to score his first career victory.

“There’s so much that goes into competing for wins in this series, and I feel like we’re getting close to being able to do that,” he told Popular Speed last month. “You have to build from somewhere, and I felt that Texas was great for us to build from a solid run. You have to have that as a team to build everybody’s confidence up and to be able to keep on rolling through the next stretch here. As you know, we have a couple of weeks here and then a few weeks off, but after that, there are 20 something weeks in a row, and you better be hitting it by then.”

Chase Bubble Watch

As the series nears closer to the 26th race of the season at Chicagoland Speedway – the last event before the XFINITY Series Chase, eyes will be watching the 12th position in points a lot closer to see who will qualify.

Currently, victories for Allgaier and Ryan Reed have them locked in.

Sitting 10th in points, Blake Koch only has scored one top-10 this year, but having 62 points over J.J Yeley in 13th should have him and those ahead confident in their chances. With that said, the current outlook includes Sadler, Bryon, Daniel Hemric, Darrell Wallace Jr., Brennan Poole, Tifft, Annett and Koch joining the pair of aforementioned winners.

Cole Custer has scored three top-10’s this year, but wrecks at Bristol and Talladega have slipped him back to 11th in the standings, currently 54 points ahead of Yeley.

Dakoda Armstrong has yet to score a top-10 this season and only has a 36-marker gap to keep the final qualified spot.

The shock of the bubble watch is Richard Childress Racing teammates Brandon Jones and Brendan Gaughan sitting 15th and 16th. With at least 37 points to make up a piece, they will need to start performing or find victory lane during the summer to keep their hopes alive.

No Consistency for Custer

Although Custer’s name was mentioned in the bubble watch, he is a driver who should qualify for the Chase – if he performs to expectations.

With 10 races in the books for 2017, he has posted three top-10’s as noted, including a fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
Each weekend, he places the No. 00 Ford in the top-10 with intentions of a solid finish. However, wrecks and pit penalties have resulted in five finishes outside of the top-20 this season.

Custer acknowledged their struggles, saying they needed to get better.

“We had pretty solid cars the last couple weeks, and even in Atlanta we had a good car just haven’t gotten the finishes,” he said in April. “We haven’t done that. It was me making mistakes and just having random things happen. If we can keep these solid runs going, we will work our way back up there in the points. I feel like we can do this. We have had fast cars the last couple of weeks. We will just keep plugging away at it.”

Being a new team in the series, Stewart-Haas Racing has shown they can run up front on a weekly basis. But if consistency doesn’t start happening, they could fall outside of the Chase cut-off.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Bristol Comes at Optimistic Time for Brandon Jones

Closing out 2016 with three top-10’s in the final 10 races, Brandon Jones showcased potential to make a statement this year. Thus far, it hasn’t happened with no top-10’s as of six events. However, Bristol Motor Speedway could be his place to shine.

The Richard Childress Racing driver put together a solid rookie campaign in 2016, posting 12 top-10’s en route to placing 12th in points. While he would start off each weekend slow, the ability to get quicker with each lap on track allowed him to run top-15 weekly.

“Last season we made a lot of headway as a team and organization, and I look forward to continuing that improvement this season,” Jones said in February. “We made the Chase last year, which was one of our goals, but this year we need to be in contention to win the championship going into Homestead-Miami Speedway. Having been to all these tracks at least once now, I’m ready to grab a couple of wins and have that championship run.”

Now in his sophomore season, he has started off consistently, posting four top-15’s, along with two wrecks in six races. While decent statistics for an XFINITY Series regular given the amount of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stars each event, many expect top-10’s due to equipment underneath him.

Now going to the half-mile, a top-10 could happen. Although he finished 13th in his Bristol debut, he backed it up with an 11th and ninth last season. It also helps Richard Childress Racing won the event last August with Austin Dillon. They’ve also shown speed in 2017, with top-10 results for Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Brendan Gaughan and rookie Daniel Hemric.

Jones entered the XFINITY Series full of potential based on his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series results and backed it up in his XFINITY rookie campaign.

Now currently sitting 13th in points while stocks rise for the likes of Hemric, Cole Custer, Darrell Wallace Jr., and others, he needs some top-10 results to keep his name as part of discussions.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Wallace, Sadler Among Next Candidates for Victory Lane

For a couple of weeks, it seemed as though this season would be another dominated by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars visiting victory lane in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. However, perhaps the prediction was wrong.

Justin Allgaier held off Cup drivers Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney to score the victory on Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway. In doing so, he became the second series regular to visit victory lane this season, following Ryan Reed‘s victory at Daytona International Speedway. With four races in the books, the score is even with two wins each side.

In part, the change is due to NASCAR’s new rule limiting Cup drivers with more than five years experience to 10 XFINITY Series events a season, and not to be part of the XFINITY Series Dash for Cash events, like Phoenix. As a result, the likes of Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski were missing from Saturday’s field and won’t get to run 18 to 25 races like they did in the past.

With this weekend being a non-Dash for Cash event and still early in the year with nobody near their limit, this weekend the chances will be slimmer than other weeks. Six Cup drivers will be the field – Paul Menard, Ty Dillon, Busch, Jones, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson. There’s also the factor that Cup regulars have beat XFINITY drivers in the last 20 races at Auto Club Speedway, including seven wins for Busch and a pair for Logano.

But, is there a possibility of XFINITY Series drivers continuing the trend? Absolutely.

There are a bunch of young – and some a little older too – drivers in top-tier cars for organizations with Cup Series ties. With the fluid of top-five finishes thus far this year, a quick car combined with the right strategy could pay off in a big way.

Here are five drivers with a chance to make it happen:

1. Darrell Wallace Jr. enters the weekend with the best average finish of series regulars at Auto Club Speedway, with a 7.5 after finishes of 12th and third the past two years. His Roush Fenway Racing team also seems to have things going their way right now, as noted with a sixth place finish in each of the last three races.

2. Elliott Sadler knows what it takes to beat the Cup stars, having done so for many years in the series. He also has run well in California in the past, as noted with a top-10 in each of his last six starts at the intermediate oval. Notably, the JR Motorsports driver hasn’t ever finished better than fifth. This year has been solid so far for Sadler, as he enters this weekend as the series points leader with a top-eight finish in each of the last three races, including a pair of fifths.

3. Brandon Jones has only made one trip to California, resulting in a ninth place finish. While it’s just one statistic to his name, the Richard Childress Racing seems to get stronger with each trip to a race track, though. Notably, he has yet to post a top-10 yet this season, with his best finish being 14th.

4. William Byron will be making his first trip to Auto Club Speedway this year but has shown the rookie learning curve isn’t slowing him down this year with no finishes outside of the top-15, including a fourth last weekend at Phoenix. Notably, five of his seven Camping World Truck Series victories last year came on an intermediate track.

5. Brennan Poole has raced out in California previously, posting a 13th place finish last season. It also seems that he’s off to a decent start this year, currently sitting seventh in points after posting his first top-10 of the season at Phoenix.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement