Categories
Commentary

7 Takeaways From The Kyle Busch Sweep Show at Bristol

Kyle Busch crushed it at Bristol Motor Speedway, sweeping all three NASCAR National Touring Series races for the second time in his career, a feat no one else has ever done once.

Saturday night’s Bass Pro NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway was great fun, with first Busch and Kyle Larson and then Busch and Erik Jones putting on an excellent display of hard racing.

Here are seven takeaways from the 24th of 26 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series:

Oh, what a feeling

The top four finishers at Bristol all drove Toyotas: Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. After winning just two of the first 17 races of the season, Toyotas have won five of the last seven, which proves how quickly things change in NASCAR. It’s also a reminded that could change again before the year is out.

Not making the playoffs

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano aren’t going to make the NASCAR playoffs, and I doubt Clint Bowyer is, either. To win a race, most of the time you’ve got to lead laps and run up front with regularity.

In the last 14 races, Logano has only led once — 7 laps at Kentucky — and his best finish in the last four races was 13th at Bristol. He just hasn’t had much speed lately.

In the last eight races, Earnhardt’s best finish is 12th and his cars have consistently lacked speed, too.

Bowyer has run well lately, but his ceiling at short tracks and intermediate tracks seems to be around the top five.  Worse yet, Bowyer has led only 22 laps all year, less than one per race.

The crowd

It was great to see a solid crowd at Bristol Motor Speedway again. It maybe wasn’t what it was in the sport’s heyday, but was impressive nevertheless. Thanks, race fans, for coming to the show. You saw an excellent race.

Keeping up with the Jones

David Wilson, Toyota’s racing boss in the United States, told me at the spring Richmond race that Erik Jones would win a race before the year is out. I thought for sure that victory was going to come Saturday night, as Jones qualified on the pole, led a race-high 260 laps and finished second to Kyle Busch. Keep an eye on Jones — he’s an up-and-comer.

Busch’s broomstick

What can you say about Kyle Busch at Bristol Motor Speedway? He just owns that track, winning six Cup races, nine NASCAR XFINITY Series races and five more in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Busch deserves congratulations for an amazing accomplishment. That said, watching him race in the Truck Series is how I imagine watching LeBron James play against a junior college team would look like.

The King

I spoke briefly with Richard Petty before Saturday night’s race and it reminded me of how truly dominant he was in the day. Kyle Busch so far has won six Cup races at Bristol, which is very impressive. Now check this out: Petty won 15 races each at Martinsville and North Wilkesboro; 12 at Richmond, 11 at Rockingham, 10 at Daytona, nine at Nashville and seven each at Dover and Columbia (S.C.). No disrespect at all to Kyle, but Petty is and will always be The King, and for good reason.

The title fight

Anything is possible, but the way I see it, the 2017 champion will be one of four drivers: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson or Jimmie Johnson. Collectively, the four have won half of the 24 Cup races run so far this year and 29 of 48 stages. These four are also the only four drivers with more than 15 playoff points.

Could a Brad Keselowski or a Kevin Harvick or a Denny Hamlin crash the championship party? Sure, they could. A lot can and will happen over the final 10 races. But if someone not named Johnson, Larson, Truex or Kyle Busch is the 2017 Cup champion, I will be well and truly shocked.

E-MAIL TOM AT tom.@jensen@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @tomjensen100

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Michigan Success Defines Rise of Furniture Row Racing  

It has been a rare occurrence in recent decades that a small team can build itself up and become a top-tier organization in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Many have emerged at the premiere level only to eventually fold a couple of years down the road due to the challenges associated with competing with the sport’s established teams.

However, Furniture Row Racing has been an exception, emerging as a powerhouse organization.

They reached a significant milestone in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway, placing two cars in the top-five for the first time since beginning to field two entries this season.

Not only did they finish well but Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones dominated, running up front and at times occupying the top two positions.

Had it not been for Kyle Larson charging to the lead on the final restart, the two FRR cars looked to be in a position to battle for the win. 

However, there is no disappointment in placing second and third as it attests to their rapid growth since hiring Truex Jr. in 2014.

When the former Michael Waltrip Racing driver climbed behind the wheel, he struggled mightily, only capturing five top-10 finishes and leading just one lap in his first year. 

After a season of working together, FRR turned a corner in 2015.

Truex Jr. won at Pocono, earning the second victory for the stable after Regan Smith won at Darlington in 2011, and scored eight top-five’s and 22 top-10’s. 

This stout performance earned the No. 78 team a spot in the playoffs for the second time in its history which ultimately led to a run to the Championship 4.

While Truex Jr. didn’t take home the title, the story of an underdog team from Denver, Colorado in contention for the season’s biggest prize captured significant attention.

Developing an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota during the following season was the next major step leading to their success today as Truex Jr. emerged as one of the best drivers in 2016.

The group stepped it up again in 2017, not only adding a second entry with Jones behind the wheel but proving more competitive than ever before now with two cars.

Truex Jr. has continued to dominate, leading the series with four wins, and blowing out the field in the playoff points column. Jones has also fared well for a rookie with two third-place finishes to his name. 

There is no doubt that Truex Jr. will be the championship favorite heading into the Playoffs. By carrying in at least 50 playoff points including the 15 additional points that he will pick up by winning the regular season title, he is essentially a lock for the season finale.

Being in this position highlights the remarkable rise for FRR. Not many expected this level of success when they first opened operations in 2005, but it’s a testament to the hard work and leadership of owner Barney Visser.

Whether or not they take home the title this season, expect this organization to remain as fierce championship contenders for years to come.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Your Ultimate Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season Guide

After a couple of relatively quiet years, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is about to go through a wholesale shuffle of drivers and teams.

Known as “Silly Season,” this is the time of the year when changes are announced or sometimes just rumored for the upcoming season. With lots of upheaval ahead, the 2018 Cup season will have a very different look.

With that in mind, here is your ultimate Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season guide, a detailed list of who’s going where next season.

We’ll start with the drivers.

Aric Almirola

The Richard Petty Motorsports driver’s contract is reportedly up at the end of this season. No official word yet if he’ll be back with the team next year.

Ryan Blaney

After two successful seasons with the Wood Brothers, Blaney will move to the new Team Penske No. 12 Ford next year.

Alex Bowman

An impressive stint for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2016 was enough to earn Bowman the ride in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next year.

Kurt Busch

Officially the elder Busch is a free agent, as Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up his contract option for 2018. But the team has said it expects him back next year. We’ll see.

William Byron

After dazzling performances in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last year and the NASCAR XFINITY Series this year, Byron will move to the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next season, replacing Kasey Kahne.  Axalta and Liberty University will sponsor him.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

This is Earnhardt’s last season as a driver; next year, he’ll be in the NBC television booth, where he will add a lot to the broadcast. And, of course, he and sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller will continue to run their successful JR Motorsports XFINITY team.

Erik Jones

It’s one-and-done for impressive rookie Jones at Furniture Row Racing. Next year, he will take over the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota from Matt Kenseth.

Kasey Kahne

Officially a free agent, Kahne is looking for work for next season.

Matt Kenseth

Another top free agent, Kenseth does not yet have a confirmed ride for 2018.

Paul Menard

Following seven years with Richard Childress Racing, Menard will move to Wood Brothers Racing next season.

Danica Patrick

If Stewart-Haas Racing can’t find a sponsor for Patrick next season, she will be released from the final year of her contract, Patrick told USA Today last weekend.

Bubba Wallace

Wallace is one of several good drivers looking for work. He was impressive filling in for the injured Aric Almirola this summer.

 

And now, the teams.

Furniture Row Racing

With Erik Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing, team owner Barney Visser has said he’ll only run two cars next season if he can find enough sponsorship.

Hendrick Motorsports

Alex Bowman will succeed Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88, and William Byron will replace Kasey Kahne in the No. 5. Axalta and Liberty University will sponsor Byron.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Matt Kenseth is out at the No. 20 an Erik Jones is in.

Richard Childress Racing

With Paul Menard moving to the Wood Brothers next season, there’s an open seat at RCR, assuming they don’t decide to scale back to two cars.

Richard Petty Motorsports

There have been rumblings that RPM will try to find enough sponsorship to bring back the No. 44 with Bubba Wallace, but so far nothing definite.

Stewart-Haas Racing

As always, it seems, the situation at SHR is interesting. The team declined to pick up Kurt Busch’s option for 2018, but says it expects him back, while Danica Patrick said she doesn’t yet have a sponsor for next year and could be released if they don’t find one.

Team Penske

Earlier this season, Team Penske re-signed drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and their respective crew chiefs to long-term deals. Next year, they’ll add a third full-time car for the first time since 2010, with Ryan Blaney driving the No. 12 Ford.

Wood Brothers Racing

Ryan Blaney will be out and Paul Menard will be in the cockpit of the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 

E-MAIL TOM AT tom.@jensen@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @tomjensen100

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
News

GALLERY: The Week’s 10 Biggest NASCAR News Stories

Once again, there is no Friday on-track activity for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which this weekend is at Watkins Glen International for Sunday’s I Love NY 355 at the Glen, the 22nd of 26 races in the Cup regular season.

There will be two rounds of Cup practice on Saturday at the Glen — 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. — with qualifying Sunday at 12:05 p.m., followed by the race at 3 p.m.

But this week has been anything but quiet, with a lot of news happening over the last five days.  In case you missed it, here are the week’s 10 biggest news stories.

  1. Sponsor news

On the plus side of the ledger, ExxonMobil has signed a new deal for Mobil 1 to continue as “The Official Motor Oil of NASCAR.” Less happy was the news that longtime Chip Ganassi Racing sponsor Target is leaving the team and NASCAR.

  1. Logan Lucky

Tuesday night in Charlotte, the NASCAR community got to see an advance screening of the new Steven Soderbergh film “Logan Lucky,” which features cameos by Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. The film has gotten a lot of  positive advance buzz.

  1. Said saying so long

Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International will be the final Cup appearance for Boris Said, who possesses both phenomenal road-racing skills and a huge Brillo-like shock of hair. Said has 53 career Cup starts, with his best finishes being fourth at Sonoma in 2005 and fourth in the July Daytona race a year later.

  1. SHR doesn’t pick up Kurt Busch’s option

Stewart-Haas Racing said on Twitter that it expects Kurt Busch to return to the cockpit of the No. 41 SHR Ford next year. But the team declined to pick up his 2018 option, which means he is a free agent right now.

  1. Ricky Hendrick remembered
Photo Courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports

Of all the throwback paint schemes for the upcoming Darlington Labor Day weekend, the most emotional one might be the one William Byron will carry in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at The Track Too Tough To Tame. There, Byron’s JR Motorsports Chevrolet will have a paint scheme similar to the one the late Ricky Hendrick ran in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2001.

  1. Crew chief suspended

Chris Gayle, crew chief of the Furniture Row Racing No. 77 Toyota driven by rookie  Erik Jones, has been suspended by NASCAR for the next two races and fined $50,000 for a rear-gear violation discovered after Sunday’s Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway.  As part of the penalty, the team also lost 25 owner and driver points. There will be no appeal.

  1. NASCAR moves the overtime line

Effective immediately, NASCAR has decided to relocate the overtime line at all tracks to the start-finish line, which should eliminate a lot of confusion. Once the leader crosses the finish line to take the white, the next flag ends the race.

  1. Harry Scott passes
Photo Courtesy of NASCAR

Thoughts and prayers go out to the family of longtime NASCAR team owner Harry Scott, who died Wednesday at the age of 51. The cause of death was not revealed. Scott won four K&N Pro Series East championships as a co-owner and at various times fielded teams in NASCAR’s top three touring series.

  1. Cup drivers limited in lower series

NASCAR on Tuesday cut the participation of Monster Energy Cup Series regulars in the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. Drivers with more than five years of full-time experience in the Cup Series will be limited to seven XFINITY races in the s and five Truck Series races.  No  driver racing for Cup points will be able to compete in the regular season finale and playoff races in each series, as well as the Dash 4 Cash (XFINITY) races.

  1. Junior’s last ride
Photo Courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports

For the final Cup race of his career, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will carry the black-over-red colors from his 1999 Cup debut during this year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s an awesome look, harkening back to when Earnhardt drove the No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet.

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 unless otherwise noted

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @tomjensen100

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

Bell Proving Ready for Next Career Step

Christopher Bell picked up his series-leading fourth victory in Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Overton’s 150 at Pocono Raceway.

The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver has impressed through the first 12 races of the season, scoring top-10’s in all but one event.

This strength and consistency has not only proven his potential to once again be a title contender this year after making last season’s Championship 4 but attests to his future in the sport.

KBM has produced high-quality drivers in recent years, and Bell is no exception. He is the third consecutive competitor to compete for the team and have a remarkable season following Erik Jones and William Byron.

However, Bell is setting himself apart from Jones and Byron.

Jones experienced similar consistency as he only placed outside of the top-10 three times in 2015. Bell’s ability to win provides him an edge as Jones only captured three victories while Bell has already surpassed that mark at the halfway point of the season.

Byron’s seven wins in 2016 broke numerous series records, but consistency wasn’t always his strong suit as he captured 16 top-10’s. Bell is at 11 with 11 events remaining in 2017 and will likely top Byron.

Bell is proving to have an advantage in both statistical categories, and it’s creating a stout tenure while showing that he’s worthy of a promotion.

When the 22-year-old made his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut at Charlotte in May with Joe Gibbs Racing, he ran exceptional and finished fourth after overcoming adversity from an early race spin.

Bell’s five additional opportunities behind the wheel for JGR this season will likely yield similar results as he has seemed to defy the learning curve that is typically associated with the transition between the two series.

While his sights are set on battling for the Truck Series championship this fall, his performance through the remainder of the season won’t have much influence on his future after establishing himself as a talented, versatile racer over the last year of the half.

A title would be an excellent addition to his résumé but shouldn’t be necessary for him to earn a full-time ride in the XFINITY Series next season.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Young Talent Poised to Continue Thriving at Pocono

When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last visited Pocono Raceway in June, Ryan Blaney scored his monumental first career win.

It came after he fended off both Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in the closing laps, asserting his strength while affirming his position as a rising star.

It followed Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon’s first career victories in May and continued to define 2017 as a year of breakout success among young drivers.

The question of who will be next surfaced after Blaney’s triumph and has yet to be answered, but Pocono could change that.

Through 61 career Cup Series starts, Chase Elliott hasn’t yet been able to seal the deal despite coming close in numerous events. 

Rookie Erik Jones is in a similar position as he has looked capable of winning at times but has been unable to put an entire race together. 

The “Tricky Triangle” has been a place where both have excelled from the start of their careers.

Elliott nearly went to Victory Lane in his first Cup Series event at Pocono last season after leading a race high 51 laps and ending the day in fourth.

Jones also had an impressive debut, earning his career best Cup Series finish of third last month. 

Now using the momentum from these performances and the desire to win and secure a playoff spot could provide the edge that each team needs to put themselves in position for a breakthrough victory on Sunday.

Jones is 126 points below the post-season cutoff line and will more than likely need a win to become the third rookie in the last two years to compete for the championship following Elliott and Chris Buescher in 2016.

While Elliott is 55 points to the good in 15th, he’ll be knocked out if two drivers below him in points win. It seemed unlikely before Indianapolis, but after teammate Kasey Kahne’s surprise trip to the winner’s circle, anything could happen in the final six regular season events.

Based on all tracks on the circuit, Pocono seems most unlikely to favor young talent given its unique layout and challenging corners. 

However, both Elliott and Jones have had some of their best performances at the venue, and Blaney’s win proved that experience doesn’t always play a factor in determining the winner.

Pocono is proving to be a place where the youth of the sport thrive, and the 2.5-mile triangular oval could see a third consecutive first-time winner in Sunday’s Overton’s 400.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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

Grading the 2018 Silly Season Moves So Far

It’s that time of the year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — Silly Season time. Already, a number of top teams have made moves for the 2018 season, with many more changes still to come.

Here’s how we break down the grades for the deals announced so far.

Richard Childress Racing,  C

Paul Menard is leaving to join the Wood Brothers next year, which means a pretty big financial hit for RCR. On one hand, the team could be forced to downsize to two cars; on the other hand, if sponsorship is found, it could open the door for Ty Dillon to move to his grandfather’s team.

Furniture Row Racing, C

It will be one-and-done for rookie Erik Jones in the No. 77 Furniture Row Toyota, as next year he’ll move to Joe Gibbs Racing. Furniture Row owner Barney Visser has said he doesn’t know if the team will be able to find sponsorship for the No. 77 next year. If the team has to return to running a single car, it will be a step backwards.

Wood Brothers Racing, B-

Next year, Paul Menard will replace Ryan Blaney in the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford. Certainly, Blaney has more upside as a driver than Menard does. On the other hand, Menard brings solid sponsorship with him and the Wood Brothers will still have a technical alliance with Team Penske, so they should be OK. 

Joe Gibbs Racing, B

Next year, Erik Jones will take over the No. 20 JGR Toyota for Matt Kenseth, while the 2003 champion becomes a free agent. Short term, this could be a slight step back for the team as even at age 45, Kenseth is still fully capable of winning races. Long-term, though, this ought to prove a solid move.

Hendrick Motorsports, B+

Replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Alex Bowman for 2018 and beyond was a wise decision. Bowman showed well in the No. 88 last year when Earnhardt was out recovering from a concussion. He can step into the seat and be up to speed from Day 1, which is a plus. This grade could change depending on what Hendrick decides to do with Kasey Kahne.

Team Penske, A+

Joey Logano and his crew chief Todd Gordon re-signed? Check. Brad Keselowski and his crew chief Paul Wolfe re-signed? Check. Rising star Ryan Blaney and crew chief Jeremy Bullins signed for a third Team Penske Ford? Check. Add the moves up and it’s clear no one has helped themselves more for 2018 than Team Penske has.

Categories
XFINITY

Cup Driver Dominance Hurts Excitement of XFINITY Series

The NASCAR XFINITY Series saw two of its most compelling races of the season at Iowa and Daytona. What contributed to the excitement? The success of series regulars.

William Byron won both events, picking up his first career series victories, and the top-10 was comprised of ten championship contenders at Iowa and nine at Daytona.

However, the narrative changed in Saturday’s running of the postponed Alsco 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

Six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers led the way, leading all the laps and claiming the top six finishing positions. Byron finished highest among the regulars in seventh in a race that demonstrated a clear distinction between the drivers of the different divisions.

While Cup Series competitors dominating the lower series has been commonplace for years, it’s harder to accept following two races of the regulars shining through and showcasing the series’ unique identity.

Iowa proved to be one of the wildest events of the year. An untimely late caution shook up the field and led to three drivers scoring their first top five’s of the season and many smaller teams earning an impressive finish.

Daytona’s unpredictability produced similar surprise contenders running well as Jeb Burton and Ross Chastain were among the competitors who finished inside the top-10.

Seeing different names at the front of the field was a refreshing change in a year where Cup drivers had won 11 of the 13 races before Byron’s pair of victories.

It also created the hunger to see more races play out similarly to highlight the up and coming drivers along with those competing full-time in the series.

While the importance of having names like the top-three finishers at Kentucky of Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, and Erik Jones in the field has been well documented as they attract sponsors and additional viewers, it’s overall more interesting to see the series regulars succeed.

Not all races play out like Kentucky but the events that do impact the series’ ability to build on its identity that Iowa and Daytona captured perfectly.

Although efforts are being made to limit the presence of Cup drivers in the series, the reason for doing so shouldn’t be just to keep them out of Victory Lane. It should be because seeing the stars of the series excel will ultimately produce a better on-track product.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Impressive Pocono Performance Leads Jones Closer to Victory

A full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie hasn’t won an event that was not shortened by rain in nearly a decade. Erik Jones is looking to change that this season and another strong showing at Pocono Raceway proved it is an attainable goal.

Jones earned his best career finish of third on Sunday following a strong second half and a gutsy two-tire pit stop call late in the race.

It’s the Furniture Row Racing driver’s second top-10 finish in three races and third of the season after finishing seventh at Charlotte.

However, despite a lack of impressive results often due to misfortune late in the race, he has posted many promising runs through the first 14 races of 2017.

A slow final pit stop cost Jones a top-10 performance at Las Vegas after he ran among the leaders throughout the afternoon.

Similar circumstances played out at Bristol as a top-10 run was erased after contact with a lapped car eventually cut down one of Jones’ tire and sent him into the wall.

He was again racing in the top-10 last weekend at Dover before a flat tire, and unscheduled pit stop robbed him of another strong result.

The No. 77 team’s greatest challenge seems to be putting a full race together. They overcame this obstacle at Pocono, and it ultimately showed Jones’ potential to battle for a win if he finds himself in contention late in another event this season.

With three first-time winners finding Victory Lane in the last two months including Ryan Blaney on Sunday, it raises the question of who will be next to taste the champagne.

While Chase Elliott has been close before and seems most likely to visit the winner’s circle, it could be Jones becoming the second rookie to win in two years after Chris Buescher captured a rain-shortened victory at Pocono last August.

Jones would become the first rookie to win a race that ran the advertised distance since Juan Pablo Montoya claimed the checkered flag at Sonoma in 2007.

Now heading to Jones’ home track of Michigan International Speedway where he has only made two starts but scored top-five’s  in each, a win would make for quite the homecoming.

Combining the 21-year-old’s potential and impressive Furniture Row Racing equipment makes him a favorite to join the competitors who have earned their first career wins in 2017.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Toyota Shows Signs of Improvement at Charlotte

After dominating the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last year, Toyota teams didn’t show as much strength through the first 11 races of the season.

Martin Truex Jr. has been the only competitor to reach Victory Lane as he has captured two wins at Las Vegas and Kansas. However, his teammate Erik Jones and the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have struggled to match his success.

After winning last weekend’s Monster Energy All-Star Race with Kyle Busch, the Toyota camp entered the Coca-Cola 600 with added confidence.

It paid off as they excelled on Sunday by winning the first three stages as Busch, Truex Jr., and Denny Hamlin all picked up a valuable playoff point.

While they ultimately didn’t win the race as Austin Dillon stretched his fuel mileage in the Final Stage for his first career victory, four Toyota competitors finished fifth or better for the first time since the 2016 DAYTONA 500.

Busch passed Truex Jr. on the final lap to finish second, and Matt Kenseth ended up fourth followed by Hamlin in fifth.

One year ago, Truex Jr. put on a historic performance and led all but eight laps of the race en route to victory. He showed similar signs of dominance by leading a race-high 233 circuits on Sunday.

Both Busch and Hamlin also paced the field for a combined 73 laps, marking the third consecutive race Busch has been out front.

Running well at Charlotte Motor Speedway also shows improvement on 1.5-mile facilities that will be crucial when contending for the championship this fall, especially when returning to the speedway in October. 

Now carrying this momentum into the upcoming races at a variety of venues will be the next test for the manufacturer to overcome. 

Heading to Dover where Toyota drivers swept last season with Kenseth and Truex Jr., and Pocono where the two drivers also swept in 2015 shows that they have run well at the tracks before and can again in the next two weeks. 

If the Toyota competitors are back to their dominant ways after thriving at Charlotte, more strong showings could be ahead in the next month and throughout the summer stretch. 

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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.