Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Jones Gives Solid Performance in Coke 600

In his first Coca-Cola 600, Erik Jones scored a career-high seventh place; however, what may have been more impressive was how he got the finish.

The Michigan-native started fifth, but lost track position when he sustained a hole in the nose of his No. 77 during the race’s first caution on Lap 20. Despite this, he made his way quickly back into the top-five, scoring points in stage two and three en route to his top-10 finish.

“Yeah, we – you know it was just a long day overall, altogether with the rain delay, getting the damage early. So just a lot of things going on, but a good learning experience nonetheless,” Jones said. “We had a good 5-Hour Energy Camry. I think getting that damage early kind of put us behind the eight-ball. I don’t know if we ever had the same race car we had at the start. I think we had a car that would contend up there with probably Martin (Truex Jr.) and Kyle (Busch) if we did a little work on it and after the damage, never could get it quite as fast again. A good day though.”

After two DNFs at Richmond and Talladega, in addition to a 22nd-place finish at Kansas, Sunday served as a much-needed rebound for him and his team.

“It was a good night and a solid night. This was what we needed after some tough races, and tonight we just needed a good, solid finish, so it was good to get a top-10,” Jones said. “I think our car was a little bit better than that. We just got that hole in the nose early and never got the balance the same. The 5-hour Energy Camry was good, and it was just nice to have a good night.”

Charlotte could end up proving to be important in the growth of not only Jones but his No. 77 team as well.

As a whole, it was something neither the team or the driver had experienced all season. There are races where they have run in the top-10, and races that have not gone their way but, never a mixture of both. With their last first top-10 since was in Phoenix back in March, it could be the spark they need.

Take a look at Kyle Larson. Before his win at Michigan, Chip Ganassi Racing was not a championship contender. After? They continued to get stronger with five top-5’s to close out 2016, and won another race this year along with four other top-5’s, and are now considered a championship contender.

Jones now sits 18th in the points standings and will need to continuously improve if he wants to make the playoffs in September. With that said, it’ll be interesting to see if he can carry the momentum to Dover next weekend, a track where he owns a XFINITY Series win.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Cut Tire Ruins Erik Jones’ Day

Erik Jones was setting himself up to contend for a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at Bristol Motor Speedway when a cut tire with 80 laps to go took him out of contention.

Starting 14th, the Furniture Row Racing driver drove into the top-five in the early laps, placing third in the first stage. He kept the momentum rolling through Stage 2 with a sixth-place finish.

Continuing to battle just outside the top-five, Jones worked his way around the lap cars, coming up on the back of Gray Gaulding. The pair made contact, cutting down the No. 77 Sport Clips Toyota Camry’s right front tire. Jones then slapped the wall, before being run into the back of by A.J. Allmendinger.

With a bent upper control arm and heavy sheet metal damage, Jones limped home to a 17th place finish.

“Pretty unfortunate,” Jones said. “I thought we had a really good car and a car that if we could have got some track position and maybe got up front, I think we could have led some laps and had a shot at the win. I thought we were just as good as the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) for the majority of the day. We’ll keep working on it, and we have a good package to come back in the fall.”

The rookie’s performance throughout the Food City 500 pleased crew chief Chris Gayle, who was optimistic about a second top-10 of 2017 before the accident.

“I thought it was going to be a really great day for us,” Gayle said. “We were strong in all three practice sessions this weekend and Erik’ (Jones) done a great job. I felt like there right before we got into the accident and cut the tire that we were actually going to have a shot to compete for the win here. I was looking forward to getting that next set of tires off and getting ready for the last 100 laps. Just unfortunate that a little contact there cuts a tire and turns what could have been a really great day for us into just an okay points day for us.”

Jones will hope to run well at Richmond International Raceway, where he has three top-fives in four XFINITY Series starts.

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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

Jones Captures Bristol Win; Hemric Earns Dash 4 Cash Bonus

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) – BRISTOL, Tenn. — Erik Jones found the ideal way to atone from a mistake in Saturday’s Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway, but it took a bump-and-run for Jones to complete his comeback at the .533-mile short track.

Recovering from a Lap 230 pit road speeding penalty that sent him to the back of the field, Jones worked his way to the front through a series of quick cautions and muscled Ryan Blaney out of the way to take the lead on Lap 280 of 300.

Jones held the top spot the rest of the way, through a caution that slowed the race after William Byron, Justin Allgaier, Brennan Poole and Austin Dillon were involved in a Turn 4 wreck on Lap 291. The race restarted on Lap 298, but Blaney couldn’t get to Jones’ bumper to return the favor before the checkered flag waved.

“It was just hard racing,” said Jones, who won his second straight NASCAR XFINITY Series race of the season, his second at Bristol and the eighth of his career. “We ended up racing hard and getting by him. To come back from a pit road penalty like that, it’s a race I won’t forget for a long time — just an awesome day.”

Blaney led the field to a restart on Lap 278, but Jones had superior speed on the short runs and quickly pulled up to Blaney’s bumper. As they raced hard into Turn 1, Jones applied the bumper of his No. 20 Toyota, sent Blaney’s No. 22 Ford up the track and made the decisive pass.

“He was so much better than us on the short runs,” Blaney said. “He wasn’t going to back out, and I wasn’t going to back out either. … I knew I pushed the issue with him. I knew he was close, and I don’t blame him for not backing out at that time.

“You can’t do that, so I took a chance, and we had some contact. Fortunately, we were able to get a restart in fourth (on Lap 298) and get to second and just couldn’t quite get close to make a run at him.”

To Jones, the bump was justified by late-race urgency and the relative speed of his car.

“At that point in the race I think there was less than 20 (laps) to go, and you have to do all you can to try to get to the lead,” he said. “I knew clean air was important, and we were quite a bit faster than the 22 just to fire off, and I guess just the track cooled down and we got some speed back in the car.

“We were able to get around him and get the lead, and from there, I think everyone was stuck on the bottom, and we were able to hold them off.”

It was a race of radically changing fortunes, and not just for Jones. Polesitter Kyle Larson led 180 laps, but cut a tire after contact with Brandon Jones’ Chevrolet on lap 261 — an incident that started a chain-reaction wreck that eliminated Cole Custer, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Garrett Smithley.

Larson compounded his issues with a penalty for a commitment line violation but came from the rear of the field in the final 30 laps to finish seventh.

Sunoco rookie Daniel Hemric came from a lap down to win the $100,000 Dash 4 cash bonus after the three other qualifiers for the XFINITY-sponsored prize — Custer, Allgaier and Brendan Gaughan — all were involved in accidents.

Hemric finished fifth behind Daniel Suarez in third and series leader Elliott Sadler in fourth.

Notes: Blaney finished second in the No. 22 Team Penske Mustang for the third time this season. All told, the 22 car has five runner-up results without a win this year. However, the No. 22 was found to be too low in the left front post race. Any potential penalty will be announced early next week … The action-filled race featured nine cautions for 85 laps.

Categories
XFINITY

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300

It was a long afternoon for the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Bristol Motor Speedway that included two red flags, one for rain and the other for a crash. When it finally came to a close, it was Erik Jones standing in victory lane for the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300. 

The VHT Effect

After an experiment last year with limited impact, the speedway was more aggressive this time around with the use of VHT, a substance that was applied to the lower groove in hopes of re-creating the racing of old at Bristol, including the bump and run.

Initially, the impact of VHT, which was designed to give more grip to the bottom lane, seemed to be inadequate. Starting second on the outside line, Austin Dillon passed pole sitter Kyle Larson in the first corner, despite Larson having the VHT to his advantage. However, as the race progressed, the low groove showed some promise, with much of the field running right against the apron.

It may not have been exactly like it used to be, but there were times it seemed close. The highlight of this was in the closing laps, when Jones put the bumper to Ryan Blaney to take the lead and ultimately the win.

Short of another reconfiguration, the old Bristol may never return back to its true form. However, while the Cup race on Sunday will be the best indicator, Saturday seemed to be an effective step. Track officials deserve credit for making bold moves in an attempt to enhance the racing.

Dash 4 Cash and Cup Drivers

Saturday was the second of four Dash 4 Cash races this season, where $100,000 was on the line for XFINITY Series regulars. For each of these events, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers with more than five years of experience are not allowed to compete. This time, it was Daniel Hemric taking home the money after a fifth place finish.

However, Bristol was unable to live up to the high bar set by Phoenix, the first Dash 4 Cash race of the year, which was won by series regular Justin Allgaier and was one of the best events of 2017 thus far. In Bristol, Cup drivers with less than five years of experience, who are still able to compete, dominated the race. XFINITY drivers were rarely worthy of a mention, hiding in the shadows of those from the top series.

The new entry rules for the division are a start. A win by Jones is a bit more tolerable than a win by Kyle Busch simply because Jones has less experience and is a fresh face to the sport. However, more steps should be taken, with the next logical one being limiting any driver competing full time in Cup.

Daniel Suarez Has Strong Run

Cup drivers racing in the XFINITY Series may not be best for the sport, but the added track time is still good for Daniel Suarez. After being thrown into a Cup car after Carl Edwards’ sudden departure, Suarez was given a difficult challenge this year.

As Joey Logano showed when he moved to NASCAR’s top series, starting too early can hurt you, so any advantage Suarez can find is a major plus for the Mexican driver.

Running near the front, competing for the lead and ultimately finishing third Saturday was a bright spot in a season that has been rocky at times. Bristol is not easy to master, especially with the speedway trying to alter the track throughout the weekend, but Suarez handled it well. Sunday’s race will be an entirely different test, but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver may be setting himself up for a strong run on the big stage.

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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

THREE TAKEAWAYS: My Bariatric Solutions 300

Erik Jones won Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, marking the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie’s first victory of 2017.     

Slippery Slope for Texas Repave

The biggest story entering the weekend was the newly configured track surface. The XFINITY Series event was the first race on the new pavement, and a few drivers experienced trouble on the less-banked and wider Turns 1 and 2.

On Lap 12, Daniel Hemric spun in Turn 2 and backed his No. 21 Chevrolet into the outside wall while running second. The Richard Childress Racing rookie suffered damage, which relegated him to finish 32nd.

Darrell Wallace Jr. and Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Tyler Reddick and Brennan Poole wrecked in the same vicinity. Wallace was lucky enough to overcome his spin, but both CGR racers finished outside the top-30.

With seven to go in Stage 2, Garrett Smithley spun on the exit of Turn 2 but avoided contact with the wall. The second-year JD Motorsports wheelman finished 30th.

Sixth Again for No. 6

Wallace’s streak of sixth-place finishes lives on.

After being clipped by Reddick on Lap 66, Wallace spun and it looked like the streak would end. But he rebounded to finish sixth for a fifth consecutive race. He’s now fourth in the standings, still searching for his first XFINITY win.

Stewart-Haas strong

Stewart-Haas Racing entered 2017 as the newest Cup-affiliate team running in NASCAR’s second-tier level. So far, so good as both entries finished in the top-five at the 1.5-mile track.

Rookie Cole Custer finished fifth, giving the No. 00 driver his first top-five of the season and second of his career. SHR teammate Kevin Harvick finished third after qualifying 14th in the part-time No. 41. Having race laps logged on the new surface could be advantageous to the 2014 Cup champion. He starts Sunday’s 500-mile event from the pole.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
News

Erik Jones Dominates at Texas for NASCAR XFINITY Series win

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) – FORT WORTH, Tex. – What a difference a pit stop made.

Erik Jones gained two seconds over Ryan Blaney on his final trip to pit road, and that was all the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota needed for a convincing victory in Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

In winning for the second time at Texas, the first time this season and the seventh time in his career, Jones led 112 of the 200 laps and stretched his advantage to more than three seconds in the late going before driving conservatively over the last three laps and beating Blaney to the stripe by .512 seconds.

“I tiptoed a lot there in the segments and ended up letting the 22 (Blaney) catch us and pass us, but then I was just super aggressive the whole time in traffic just trying to make passes as quick as I could and get as many cars as I could between myself and Ryan, and it paid off,” Jones said.

“I think we were probably a little slower than him for the last few laps – he had so many lapped cars to get around that there was no way he was going to get to us.”

Kevin Harvick ran third, 21.383 seconds behind Jones, as only nine drivers finished on the lead lap. Austin Dillon was fourth, followed by Sunoco rookie Cole Custer, who posted a career-best fifth, and Darrell Wallace Jr., who finished sixth for the fifth consecutive race.

With the final stage of the race going green from a restart on lap 98 to the conclusion, Blaney ran down Jones and passed him for the lead on Lap 131. Jones came to pit road for fresh tires and fuel on Lap 147, and Blaney followed a lap later.

In the exchange of stops, Jones went from a half-second behind to 2.178 seconds ahead of the runner-up, and from that point on it was game over.

“I thought our car was pretty good all day,” Blaney said. “The 20 seemed to be a little better than us for 35 or 40 laps. Then I feel like we could start running him down. We passed him before the last pit stop, and I thought our car was pretty decent right there. I needed to turn a little better early in a run. I knew it wasn’t going to be that long for the next stint.

“We didn’t come out with the lead, and that hurt us. I think if we would have come out with the lead, I don’t know if I could have held him off. He was pretty good right away, but we kind of over adjusted and got too free that last run. I felt like we were kind of even with them 10 laps into a run, but then he got so far out ahead that we couldn’t run him down. Just couldn’t get there.”

Stage racing played a decisive role in strategies employed by NASCAR XFINITY Series regulars versus Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers moonlighting in Saturday’s race. When Garrett Smithley’s spin off Turn 2 brought out the fifth caution on Lap 84, most of the Cup drivers came to pit road. The XFINITY regulars, on the other hand, stayed on the track under the yellow to collect points at the end of the second stage, which concluded on Lap 90. William Byron won the stage and the accompanying playoff point, leading nine XFINITY regulars in the top 10 in that stage.

In contrast, Jones won the first stage, which featured only three full-time XFINITY drivers in the top 10.

Despite finishing 10th as the first driver one lap down, Elliott Sadler retained the series lead by six points over Byron in second place.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Confidence Growing for Rookie Erik Jones

With his fourth straight top-15 finish, rookie Erik Jones feels Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway was a confidence boost.

Jones had an up-and-down day at Martinsville, involved in a wreck with 82 laps to go, but rebounded to finish 12th.

“Martinsville has never been my friend,” Jones told POPULAR SPEED. “You know, we did a good job all week.  We got better in practice.  We had a good car, I thought, in practice.  Started off the race and just kind of exaggerated the struggles we had all weekend and caught that a lot of the day.  Thought we were making gains on it at one point and then kind of went backwards.

“By the end of the race, we were the best we had been all day all tore up, so I don’t know what that means but the Five Hour Energy Camry, I thought, was probably a 10th place car maybe at the end.  I don’t know.  We ran up there, sixth, seventh for a little bit.  After that, we kind of struggled to stay up there.”

In the big picture, Jones is set to continually improve each week.  After surprising himself at Martinsville, Jones feels the team is accomplishing their goals for the season and knocking on the door of contending.

“Our goal was to get subtly better,” Jones explained.  “At least that was my goal for the team.  I feel like we’ve done that.  I knew this was going to be our biggest challenge of all the racetracks we’ve gone to this year and it was.  I feel like we struggled the most with handling for sure this weekend but we did a good job of improving on it.  We’ll go to Texas next week and that’s a little bit more of our forte so hopefully we can get up and run inside the top-five like we did at Auto Club and seal one out.”

While Jones feels confident about next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and fellow intermediates, the next short track on the schedule – Bristol Motor Speedway on April 23 – is on his radar. The half-mile is similar to what Jones cut his teeth on when he was racing in Super Late Models, such as the high banked, half-mile Winchester Speedway in Indiana.

“I like Bristol a lot,” Jones said.  “That reminds me a lot of the tracks I grew up racing Late Models on.  It’s always fun to go back there.  I struggled the first couple times I went there but the last few times I’ve been there in the XFINITY car, we’ve had really good speed and felt like we had winning cars each time.  We’ll keep working at it and I know Bristol will be a fun one for us.”

Erik Jones will ride the wave of momentum into Texas as he prepares for double duty, competing in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race and Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.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
XFINITY

Menard on Erik Jones: “He had a brain fart”

The list of drivers feuding against each other continues to grow with each passing week. Saturday’s XFINITY Series race featured Paul Menard unhappy with Erik Jones.

After starting up front, Menard ran within the top-five for the first half of the initial 35-lap stage, before fading back to finish ninth. He was then able to keep himself up in contention, finishing the second stage with a seventh.

As the race drew closer to the conclusion, the Richard Childress Racing driver appeared as though he could make a run for the top-five. However, coming off turn four with 56 laps to go, Erik Jones came across Menard’s rear bumper, resulting in Menard getting sideways and making contact with the outside frontstretch wall.

“We had a good car there and fell back there a bit at the beginning, but we were able to work our way back up from the back,” Menard said. “I don’t know whether he tried to push me there or cross over, but definitely had a brain fart, he did. The car was really good. All week long I thought we had a quick car and over that last run, we were able to catch the leaders a bit. Just really proud of everybody on this No. 2 XFINITY car.

“Not sure when my next one is – I think it’s at Pocono Raceway which is a long ways off. But we learned a lot for tomorrow which is a good thing.”

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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

WAID’S WORLD: New Winners And Champs? No Worries, They Are Already Here

Have you noticed Kyle Larson lately? If you haven’t, you are in the minority.

To use a cliché, Larson has been on a hot streak. He has finished second in three consecutive races – Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix. His only finish outside the top five has been a 12th at Daytona.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is the current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (I’m getting somewhat used to this) points leader. He has yet to win a race this season and doesn’t have a stage victory.

Yet he is proving what has always been true in NASCAR, no matter what point system it uses. Namely, consistency provides rewards.

The 25-year old Larson is just one of a handful of NASCAR “young guns” who have either displayed excellent competitiveness or exceptional potential.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott, although winless, has displayed considerable skills – so often that observers say it is merely a matter of time before he wins, and likely more than once. He’s presently third in points.

Ryan Blaney has been part of a Wood Brothers resurgence for two years now. The team’s technical association with Penske Racing is paying off.

Daniel Suarez, a rookie, has a lot to learn. But it has become very evident he is absorbing his lessons well. He hails from Mexico and could be the shining beacon in NASCAR’s diversity program.

Erik Jones’ career is just starting with Furniture Row Racing and he’s already attracted attention.

It bears noting that Larson, Suarez and Jones finished among the top eight at Phoenix. Blaney might have joined them had his Ford not developed problems and he had not sped on pit road.

Elliott finished outside the top 10 due to a poor restart at the finish.

All of these guys are well under 30 years old. And they have company in the form of, among others, Austin and Ty Dillon and Joey Logano – who has long enjoyed the competitive status the others seek.

Larson won his first career race at Michigan in the summer of 2016. Evidence tells us his second appears imminent.

How imminent remains to be seen. I recall that in 1981 Harry Gant, who joined the newly formed Hall Needham team (which came complete with veteran crew chief Travis Carter and a major sponsor in U.S. Tobacco Co.), was touted as a sure winner.

Gant came close. He finished a runnerup six times in ’81, including twice in a row.

Wrote one wag: Harry Gant went to a one-seat barbershop. No other customer was there. The barber looked at Gant and said: “You’re second.”

Gant did win, of course, at Martinsville in early 1982. He was 40 years old at the time. He went on to establish himself as a star.

Today we have a group of drivers nowhere near Gant’s age. They are likely to accomplish many things in a very short time.

The point of all this is that while we do express concerns about NASCAR’s future – race attendance, TV ratings, competitive improvement and the like – we don’t need to do so over its potential new winners and champions.

Fact is they are already here.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

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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

Jones Content with New Team, Earns First Career Top 10 at PIR

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Starting a new team from the ground up can be difficult in any racing series — even for the highest-budget organizations.

But Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie Erik Jones is finding consistency with the seven-month-old Furniture Row Racing No. 77 team and earned his first career top 10 at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday.

Jones, who won his first NASCAR national series race at PIR in November 2013 in a truck, finished eighth in the Camping World 500. Remove the 39th-place result he had in the Daytona 500, and he’s averaging a finish of 12th to start his first year in the sport’s top level.

He earned four Stage points by running seventh at the conclusion of Stage 2 at the desert oval and sits 18th in the points standings — the highest among five Cup rookies.

“This week was better than I thought it would be,” Jones told POPULAR SPEED. “I know we have ups and downs, but it was my goal and the team’s goal to steadily improve each week, and I think we’ve done that.”

The 20-year-old Michigan native has veteran Martin Truex Jr., who visited Victory Lane last weekend at Las Vegas, as a teammate at FRR, but he hasn’t had to ask for much advice from the No. 78 driver.

“You look at your own data, and it takes a lot of the questions out,” Jones said. “Fortunately, we’ll see he’s doing this or doing this … OK, we’ll figure that out. It helps a lot. I study pretty hard.”

Jones said the team has meshed well together with first-year Cup crew chief Chris Gayle holding the reigns, and a “new camaraderie” has formed among the No. 77 team.

“We’ve been getting everyone to execute well over the last few weeks,” Jones said. “We’re definitely competitive and bringing fast cars to the track. We’re executing well on pit road, and we’re executing on restarts.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

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