Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Drafting Strategy Backfires for Toyota

DAYTONA Beach, Fla. – The Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing Toyota drivers have developed a clear drafting strategy in the DAYTONA 500 over the last two years.

Last February, the five Toyota cars drafted together at the front of the field and led 156 of the 200 laps. Denny Hamlin then battled Martin Truex Jr. side-by-side in the closest finish in “Great American Race” history as the No. 11 edged out the No. 78 at the line.

Now with a sixth Toyota Camry in the field with Furniture Row Racing’s newly formed No. 77 5-Hour Energy team for Erik Jones, the two organizations attempted a similar drafting strategy throughout Speedweeks and in Sunday’s DAYTONA 500.

During the first stage on Sunday, all six Toyota cars pitted early in an attempt to sync up their pit cycle. However, this game plan didn’t turn out as planned as Jones, Daniel Suarez, and Matt Kenseth all ran into trouble on pit road.

Suarez received a speeding penalty entering pit road, Kenseth returned to pit road a second time after flat spotting his tires upon his first entry, and Jones missed his pit stall.

The six teams planned to draft together following the pit stops, but only three teams successfully executed the plan.

By the second stage, Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Jones, and Kenseth found each other and were able to draft together. However, the strategy again backfired when Busch blew a tire while entering Turn 3.

Truex Jr. led the Toyotas which allowed him to escape the ensuing carnage once Busch’s tire blew unexpectedly and Jones and Kenseth were collected.

“If I would’ve (had an indication the tire was going to blow), I would’ve tried to wave off as many guys behind me as I could, but it happened just as soon as we started picking up load into turn three,” Busch said.

However, having no indication not only cost the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion his day, but took out half of JGR and FRR’s six-car fleet and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“I don’t know if it was a left rear that went down or the right that went down but man, tore up three JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars in one hit and also Jr. (Dale Earnhardt Jr.),” Busch continued

At the time of the crash, the Toyotas had just positioned themselves in an ideal drafting situation and planned to move to the front throughout the final stage of the race.

“We spent most of the day kind of working our way up through and biding our time and we were finally in the position we wanted to be there to be cycled out with some JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) teammates and our Furniture Row teammate,” Jones said. “Nothing we could do.”

Unlike a year ago, Toyota won’t leave Daytona with the trophy. Michael Waltrip ended up being the highest finishing Toyota during his 30th and final DAYTONA 500 as he finished eighth.

Truex Jr. was the highest finisher among the six JGR affiliated Camry’s as he finished 13th. Hamlin came home 17th, Suarez 29th, Busch 38th, Jones 39th, and Kenseth 40th.

Now the Toyota’s will head to Atlanta and look for redemption after a challenging start to the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 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
XFINITY

XFINITY Drivers Comment on Hectic Daytona Race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A lap before Stage 1 of the PowerShares QQQ 300 ended, the second “big one” of the day occurred in Turn 4 of Daytona International Speedway.

The accident collected a dozen cars and ended any opportunity of a win for many of the race’s favorites.

Pole winner Brandon Jones was on the outside of Richard Childress Racing teammate Daniel Hemric in Turn 4 and made just enough contact to get loose and shoot up the track into the wall.

He collected a few XFINITY Series stars including Justin Allgaier, Darrell Wallace Jr., and all three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers — Daniel Suarez, Matt Tifft, and Erik Jones.

“Unfortunately, we were a victim of circumstances — we were all just racing really hard there,” Allgaier said of the wreck. “I got clipped and got into the side the 33 [Brandon Jones], and that got us back into the outside wall.

“That was one of the hardest hits I’ve ever taken in my NASCAR career. It was a pretty head-on crash.”

Three laps before the melee, Speedy Dry was applied to the track during a red flag because of the first “big one” on the backstretch, which involved 20 cars — literally half the field.

Hemric’s No. 21 wiggled when he ran over it and cited that as part of the reason for the crash.

“It just felt like I was on ice and I slid up into the 7,” Hemric said.

Suarez, last year’s XFINITY champion, wasn’t pleased about the incident. He said, “I just feel like we have to be a little more smart — it’s a long race. I don’t know why we were racing like that really early.”

Some rumblings from the fans about yesterday’s event were that NASCAR’s new three-stage format played a significant role in the race’s narrative. Drivers want to be in the top 10 at the conclusion of a stage to earn extra points.

“I think the stages create a lot of urgency,” Brennan Poole, who was involved in a later accident on Lap 59, told POPULAR SPEED. “At a track like Daytona, it puts us in a position to try to get those extra points. I think yes, everyone is trying to get those extra points, but that’s just racing too, and that’s how it goes.”

Another reason could be the new aero package for XFINITY cars, which feature smaller rear spoilers and less downforce than in previous seasons.

“[The cars] are way different — entirely different than the way it’s been the last couple of years,” Poole said. “To me, it reminds me of the Cup cars. You saw guys moving around … I think it’s good, but you have to be patient, or there’s going to be a lot of accidents.”

Erik Jones, who makes his Daytona 500 debut on Sunday, said he was trying gain knowledge from the 300-mile race to help him on the Cup side.

He said, “It’s unfortunate because I was learning quite a bit for [Sunday]. Unfortunately, we just got caught up in a wreck. I don’t know if [the car] was good enough to win — we would have had to wait and see. It definitely was driving well in the hot conditions. I felt like we were aggressive and we put ourselves in as good a position as we could to try to avoid a wreck, it just didn’t work out.”

Perhaps it was a combination of a new rules package and the new race format that caused Saturday’s race to be such a crash fest. The cars become harder to handle with less downforce, and it puts more emphasis on the driver to control his car. But being in the top 10 at the end of a stage is crucial to the points standings too.

Your thoughts?

Did less downforce in the cars or the new stages cause a wild race on Saturday?

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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
Commentary

Six Cup Young Guns Who Can Get Their First Wins in 2017

There’s plenty of young talent hungry for their first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories. Here are six potential drivers who might find their way to the winner’s circle in 2017:

 

18-20 March, 2016, Fontana, California USA Chase Elliott ©2016, Brett Moist NKP
(Photo credit: Brett Moist | NKP)

Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports

Career starts: 41

Career top 10s: 17

Why he can win in 2017: Had it not been for an imperfect restart at Michigan International Speedway last June and a late caution at Chicagoland Speedway last September, Elliott might not have even been a part of this story. But the 21-year-old enters his sophomore season in the Cup Series still searching for an elusive first win. When he took over Jeff Gordon’s seat in the No. 24 last year, he faced enormous expectations, given Gordon’s successful history in the car. But like Gordon, he didn’t win in his first full-time season. Elliott is young, learning, a Rookie of the Year, and skillful behind the wheel — he’ll visit Victory Lane at least once in 2017.

 

18-20 November, 2016, Homestead, Florida USA Austin Dillon © 2016, Nigel Kinrade NKP
(Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade | NKP)

Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing

Career starts: 121

Career top 10s: 22

Why he can win in 2017: Dillon has slowly, but surely improved with each season of competition in NASCAR’s top series. He had career highs in pole awards (2), top 10s (13), and top fives (4) in 2016 and made it to Chase’s Round of 12. The fastest the No. 3 has looked since the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove it was arguably at Texas Motor Speedway in November when Dillon won the pole and ran in the top five before crashing after contact with Kevin Harvick. An RCR car hasn’t visited Victory Lane since Harvick won in the No. 29 at Phoenix International Raceway in Nov. 2013 and the organization is desperate to get its Cup program back on track.

 

18-19 November, 2016, Homestead, Florida USA Ryan Blaney ©2016, Russell LaBounty NKP
(Photo credit: Russell LaBounty | NKP)

Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 21 for Wood Brothers Racing

Career starts: 54

Career top 10s: 11

Why he can win in 2017: Like Elliott, Blaney completed his first full Cup season in 2016, came close to victory at times, but was unable to seal the deal. The Wood Brothers may be a single-car team, but it has an alliance with Team Penske, which won seven races last year between Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. The No. 21 looked quick throughout the season, particularly at Michigan in August and Chicagoland, where Blaney finished fourth. Now his feet are wet in the Cup Series, expect him to compete for wins this year.

 

18-19 November, 2016, Homestead, Florida USA Erik Jones, GameStop / PowerA Toyota Camry ©2016, Matthew T. Thacker NKP
(Photo credit: Matthew T. Thacker | NKP)

Erik Jones, driver of the No. 77 for Furniture Row Racing

Career starts: 3

Career top 10s: 0

Why he can win in 2017: Jones, entering his rookie season, has been victorious at every level of racing he’s participated in throughout his ascending career. Most notably, he won the 2015 Camping World Truck Series championship and was one of the Championship 4 drivers for the 2016 XFINITY Series title. He’ll be racing with a newly-formed, second team for Furniture Row, which won four races with Martin Truex Jr. last year. The two-car team has an alliance with Toyota powerhouse team Joe Gibbs Racing, which had two drivers in the Championship 4 in both Cup and XFINITY — Jones being one of them.

.

18-19 November, 2016, Homestead, Florida USA Daniel Suarez, Arris Toyota Camry, celebrates winning the 2016 Xfinity Series Championship ©2016, Brett Moist NKP
(Photo credit: Brett Moist | NKP)

Daniel Suarez, driver of the No. 19 for Joe Gibbs Racing

Career starts: 0

Career top 10s: 0

Why he can win in 2017: Carl Edwards shockingly announced he wouldn’t race in NASCAR in 2017, so Suarez was named his successor. The 2016 XFINITY champion’s Cup debut will be at the season-opening Daytona 500. If he wants to win in NASCAR’s top series, he must quickly adjust to racing in Cup cars, which have more horsepower and less downforce than XFINITY carsThe 2017 season will certainly be a learning year for the Mexico native, but he’s with a top-notch team that nearly won the Cup championship in November with Edwards behind the wheel. Suarez earned his first XFINITY win after battling JGR teammate Kyle Busch late in a race at Michigan last year; don’t be surprised to see him do it again this year.

 

14-16 October, 2016, Kansas City, Kansas USA Ricky Stenhouse Jr ©2016, Russell LaBounty NKP
(Photo credit: Russell LaBounty | NKP)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the No. 17 for Roush Fenway Racing

Career starts: 148

Career top 10s: 17

Why he can win in 2017: Stenhouse probably isn’t the first name to come to mind when thinking of drivers who can potentially win in 2017. He’s been a full timer in Cup since 2013 and has led 44 laps in his four-year career. Not very flashy. He has seven career top fives and has finished second at Bristol Motor Speedway twice since 2014, though. He was runner-up to Harvick at the short track in August, so he has a knack for racing there. With RFR downsizing to a two-car team for 2017, more emphasis can be put on Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne’s performances. The organization is in dire need of a win — it last won when Edwards drove the No. 99 in 2014.

Your prediction?

Is there a driver not listed here that you think will make their first trip to Victory Lane?

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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
XFINITY

NASCAR XFINITY Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Erik Jones

It was an interesting 2016 for Erik Jones, as a solid rookie campaign in the XFINITY Series garnered him an opportunity to do the same in 2017 with one of the top teams in the Cup Series.

 

Car No.:  20

Crew Chief: Christopher Gabehart

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Wins: 4

Top-Fives: 15

Top-10s: 20

Points Finish: 4th

2016 Quick Summary: The season started off on the wrong foot for Jones and his team, as an early accident at Daytona forced him to settle for a 31st place finish. Following the season-opener however, he quickly emerged as the championship contender he was expected to be. In the next five races, he’d place himself in the top-three in all but once.

Despite his early success, Jones still didn’t have a win, as he constantly found himself chasing his JGR teammate, Kyle Busch. That would change at the spring race at Bristol, where he’d get the best of Busch and fellow Cup Series regular Kyle Larson, on a late restart and capture his first win of the season.

He’d proceed to follow up his victory a few races later with another one, this time at Dover. But, as the race to the Chase carried on, poor finishes would became a bigger and bigger concern for the 20-year-old. From the May race in Charlotte to Chicago, Jones had an impressive stat sheet with two wins (Iowa and Chicago), seven top five’s, and 10 top-10’s in 16 races. But when he wasn’t in the top-10, a bad trend was emerging. Excluding Watkins Glen, whenever he finished outside the top-10 in those 16 races, he’d finish 21st or worse, with two finishes outside the top-30. Part of Jones’ issues came as a result of a continuation of pit road penalties in some of those events.

In the Chase, his poor finishes nearly gave him an early elimination, as he started the Round Of 12 with a 28th at Kentucky following a crash and a 16th at Dover after an unscheduled trip down pit road. Luckily a fifth at Charlotte would kept his title hopes alive.

Despite not having the flashiest of stats in the Round Of 8, Jones did enough to advance to the Championship 4. However, during the Championship race at Homestead, Jones wouldn’t have anything for his teammate and eventual Champion Daniel Suarez. Jones placed fourth out of the four drivers eligible for the title, resulting in his fourth place finish in the final points standings.

2016 Highlight(s): His four wins during the season will serve as a highlight for his XFINITY Series season, including an emotional win at Bristol after his father passed away. But, the most notable highlight for the young driver was the announcement he’d be moving up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017 with Furniture Row Racing.

2016 Lowlight(s): His poor finishes throughout the year and average performance in the Chase, as well as coming up short of the Championship, will be moments Jones will try to forget as he enters the new season.

2017 Outlook: As noted above, Jones will join Furniture Row Racing in 2017 to drive the No. 77. In 2016, FRR took full advantage of their alliance with JGR and established themselves as Championship contenders with their driver, Martin Truex Jr. It’ll be interesting to see if they can continue to do the same as they move from one car to two.

As for Jones, he has shown potential in his limited appearances in NASCAR’s top series, leading laps and finishing in the top-20 in two of his three starts. If he can continue to expand on that potential and continue to grow as a driver, it may be a very good year for him. However, he definitely needs to shake the lingering issues, in terms of penalties on pit road, as track position is a priority and he may be able to fight back as he has been able to in the past.

One thing for certain, he’ll be a rookie that will draw a lot of attention once the season starts.

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
News

HScott Motorsports Will Not Compete in NASCAR in 2017

After months of speculation, Harry Scott, owner of HScott Motorsports officially announced on Monday that the team would not compete during the 2017 NASCAR season.

In a deal finalized last week, the No. 15 charter used for Clint Bowyer, which was owned by HScott Motorsports, has been sold to Premium Motorsports. The charter that was leased for the No. 46 car and Michael Annett was sold by Premium Motorsport to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car that will be driven by Erik Jones next season.

Bowyer will be moving to the No. 14 Ford and StewartHaas Racing this upcoming season while Annett will drive the No. 5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series.

Scott released a statement regarding the decision not to field a team next season.

“One thing I learned about NASCAR is that it is a ‘people business.’ I will forever be grateful to the men and women who worked tirelessly to make HScott Racing successful. This includes our dedicated employees, sponsors and partners. We were fortunate to have the support of world-class sponsors like Brandt, DC Solar, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Pilot Flying J, and 5 hour ENERGY. Our racing program would not have been possible without the assistance of Rick Hendrick, Hendrick Motorsports, and Chevrolet.

“I love this sport and being part of it. I invested in NASCAR because I truly believe it represents the best racing competition in the world and the best people in all sports.”

“Looking back, I will always be especially proud of the unprecedented success of our NASCAR K&N Series teams, including four consecutive championships and for the lifelong friendships that were forged over the last seven years. My hope is that we were able to develop drivers that will thrive at the highest levels for years to come.”

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

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

XFINITY Series Makes For Perfect Setting of Chase Storylines and Dream

The NASCAR XFINITY Series uses the tagline “Name Are Made Here” in all their promotional content and blitz. Following this year’s inaugural Chase, you could say names are made, and the Chase fits perfectly in helping make it happen.

After an entire year of drama, everything came down to Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez from Joe Gibbs Racing, and Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler from JR Motorsports. You had JGR with a pair of young guns looking to leave their mark, while JRM had a couple of guys who were looking to get their name back on the map.

Erik Jones was competing in the XFINITY Series after winning the Camping World Truck Series Championship in 2015. He put together an impressive run towards the truck championship with multiple wins and earned a couple of race wins in XFINITY in 2015 as well. It made him the early favorite to make it happen this year. While it seemed like those predictions would ring true, it proved tougher than they thought as multiple mistakes by the driver and pit crew forced Jones to overcome setbacks along the way.

Daniel Suarez was hoping to make 2016 memorable after scoring 18 top-10s in 33 races in 2015. While last year may not have been as he hoped, this year everything came together. Suarez put up the numbers – 19 top-fives and 27 top-10s in 33 races. He especially proved himself during the inaugural XFINITY Series Chase as he posted no results outside of the top-five, including two wins. The success was rewarding for Suarez after making the decision to leave Mexico for the United States five years ago, not knowing a single word of English.

Justin Allgaier had success when he began competing in XFINITY, which allowed him to move up to the Sprint Cup Series quickly. Though after finishing in the 30s the past couple years, he made the decision to return to NASCAR’s second-tier division with JR Motorsports to get back to running up front on a weekly basis, competing for wins. Despite not picking up a win this year, he put up some of the most consistent numbers with 27 top-10 finishes in 33 races, including 15 top-10 finishes in the final 17 races of the season.

After winning in the Sprint Cup Series, Elliott Sadler found himself running in XFINITY the past five years. Despite being a veteran, he had yet to experience the success he wanted with Roush Fenway or Richard Childress Racing. It’s why he made a move to JR Motorsports, hoping the change in scenery would place him into championship contention. Everything came together as it culminated for one of the best seasons in his career with three wins, 14 top fives, and a career high, 29 top-10s.

With each of these four storylines at play, everybody knew it was anybody’s race when it came time to battle under the lights at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race played out as everybody predicted, with drama at each turn. From Allgaier and Jones getting into the wall to a late-race caution and a restart, the race had every bit of drama you could want as a race fan.

While you wait for the off-season to end and Daytona to get here, relive the action in this video put together by the series.

Oh, and if you’re really looking for something to watch, re-watch the entire Ford 300 by clicking here.

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

JONES ON WHITT: “It Was Pretty Disrespectful”

After putting himself in a position to challenge Daniel Saurez for the championship in the late stages, Erik Jones saw the chance erase away from him when he got stuck behind Cole Whitt on the final restart, finishing ninth.

“It’s unfortunate,” Jones said. “We did a really nice job making our stuff better, getting to where it needed to be to have a shot. It just didn’t work out.”

After starting near the front of the field, Jones faded throughout the early stages, struggling with a tight racecar as he slid back to the bottom half of the top-10. He also found himself with a slight hole in the right front of his No. 20 GameStop Toyota Camry after getting into the back of fellow Championship contender Elliott Sadler on the start.

“I mean, didn’t start out the way we wanted to,” he said. “Didn’t have the car we needed to at the beginning of the day and really through the mid part of the race. Didn’t get where we needed to be until about lap 150 or so, and the sun started to go down, track cooled down, and our stuff kind of came around to us. After that, I felt like we had a pretty good car.”

However, his race began to turn around as the team installed a patch at Lap 125, followed by taking four tires on Lap 137 while some of the leaders elected for fuel only. Jones was able to gain ground as the laps wore down, passing fellow Championship contender Justin Allgaier for the lead with 44 laps to go. Unfortunately, a slow pit stop due to a hangup on the right front under the caution two laps later for debris resulted in Jones dropping back two spots to third.

Jones wasn’t set to give up, though, keeping close with Suarez and Allgaier, passing Allgaier for second with 20 laps to go. He was then able to chase down Suarez and looked poised to possibly complete the pass for the lead when the caution flew with 10 laps to go for Ray Black Jr. spinning.

“Right there at the end the sun went down, and the track cooled down, and the car came around a little bit, and we were able to run the 19 (Daniel Suarez) down, and if the caution didn’t come out, I think we had a pretty good shot at getting around him there,” Jones said.

Jones elected to take four tires, coming off pit road third behind Suarez who also got four. Sadler led the race off pit road after taking two, while Whitt elected to stay out from the 15th spot on old tires.

The restart came with three laps to go, with Whitt not going, backing up the outside line and Jones as Sadler and Suarez were easily able to skate away. Jones fell back through the field, ultimately finishing ninth.

Jones stated after the race he wanted the chance to talk to Whitt and his team to see why they chose to restart at the front of the field.

“Well, I think there’s a lot of ways you can look at it, but at the end of the day, I don’t know,” he said. “I guess he just wanted to stack up the top line. I don’t know; maybe he’s never started first before. I don’t know. It’s just kind of insane really. I’ve never seen anything like it. He didn’t even attempt to go. He didn’t spin his tires. He just sat there and stacked the top line up.

“It was pretty disrespectful, really, and I strongly hope that somebody is able to talk to him about that. I’d really hate to see something like that happen again. It’s a pretty unfortunate thing to happen. You know, you’ve got four guys running for the championship, and they’re all up front racing for it, and then you’ve got one guy that’s been running 18th all day that just stacks everybody up. It’s just kind of unfortunate.”

Whitt, who finished 18th, apologized for what happened, stating he spun the tires and didn’t mean to mess up the race for the contenders.

“We didn’t expect everybody to come in like that, and next thing I knew I was like this is going to be handful,’’ Whitt told NBC Sports. “I thought if I was on the outside, I would have the most room for them to go underneath me if anything happened and I couldn’t get going.

“With (Jones) hitting me, I couldn’t get going. It was just making me spin the tires worse. If you could redo it, you would change the way you did it. It was not like we were out there to screw anybody over. I hate that it worked out that way. I was just following what I was told to do and that was just stay out because we were out of tires. It’s not like you meant to do it. I think the one thing you can say at least we were out there to run good. I only had two weeks to work with this team and come out here and do all right. We were tying to run good for our team.’’

Jones heard the apology, however, remained dumbfounded upon Whitt’s actions as he stated Whitt didn’t even start to go as they reached the end of the restart zone.

“I mean, you can’t pass before the start-finish line. It would have been one thing if he would have got up and started rolling, but you can’t go anywhere before the start-finish line,” he said. “You know, it’s really frustrating. I don’t mean to bag on the guy so much, but it’s like, hey, we’re up here racing for the championship, and maybe we don’t even win it if he pits and lets us move up, but at least we would have had a fair shot at it. I feel like we kind of got robbed of at least our chance to race for it. Yeah, it’s just unfortunate. It just wasn’t a great situation altogether.”

The end of the race actions seemed to add to the frustration Jones was already experiencing in how he felt competitors battled him all race long.

“I didn’t honestly see a lot of respect out of some of the guys that weren’t racing for the championship,” he said. “I had a lot of guys that were running me really hard for no reason when we were back in the pack. It was probably a product of we haven’t seen this Chase format in the XFINITY Series yet, so some of these guys don’t exactly know how to race around us, the guys that were in the Final Four, but it is what it is.”

While he didn’t get the result he intended today, the frustration will subside after awhile. Jones knows his future looks bright, as he will move up to the Sprint Cup Series next year with Funiture Row Racing as a teammate to Martin Truex Jr.

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

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami

It was a race for the record books on Saturday evening at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship 4 contenders dueled for the title. The inaugural championship race under the Chase format produced unparalleled intensity and excitement in the series as the 2016 champion was crowned.

A commanding performance from Daniel Suarez led to his first career championship. However, he faced a strong challenge throughout the day from the other three title contenders, especially as the race neared its conclusion.

Suarez Captures the Championship

Suarez produced one of the strongest performances of his career en route to the championship at Homestead-Miami. The No. 19 team captured the pole on Saturday morning and used the track position to remain up front for a majority of the Ford EcoBoost 300.

As the event progressed, he faced an increasing challenge from Justin Allgaier, Erik Jones, and Elliott Sadler. Allgaier kept pace with Suarez for a majority of the race before Jones and Sadler came alive and battled to the front of the field in the final 75 laps.

On the final restart, Suarez took advantage of his four fresh tires and passed Sadler with ease with three laps remaining. He held on for the final two laps to come home as the champion. This marks Suarez’s first career championship in his second full-time season and the second for Joe Gibbs Racing in the XFINITY Series.

Restart Controversy

A caution with less than ten laps remaining in the Ford EcoBoost 300 prompted a late restart that would decide the championship. The four title contenders exited pit road in the top-five and were set to duel in the final three laps.

However, Cole Whitt stayed out while every other car pitted, placing him as the leader for the restart. With older tires and sub-par equipment, he struggled to get up to speed and backed up the high line. This decision ultimately cost Jones and Allgaier who restarted behind him a shot to battle Suarez and Sadler on the bottom for the title.

Coming Up Short

Allgaier, Sadler, and Jones all found themselves in the top-five and in a position to battle Suarez once the final 50 laps arrived. Suarez held command of the championship race up until that point but now faced a late-race charge from the other three title contenders.

Allgaier passed the No. 19 to lead six laps late in the race as the two exchanged the top spot for numerous laps before Suarez again pulled away.

After running further back in the top-10 for the first half of the race, Jones and Sadler both climbed forward in time to contend in the event’s late stages. Jones’ car improved as the late race run progressed and he passed Suarez to lead three laps before Suarez returned to the top spot.

Sadler received damage early in the event and was unable to showcase the No. 1 car’s potential for most of the race. However, a two-tire strategy call on the final restart provided Sadler an opportunity to contend in the final three laps. He was unable to stay ahead of Suarez on the restart and settled to finish in third-place and second among the Championship 4, salvaging a tough championship race.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @NASCARJason

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

Joe Gibbs Racing Poised For Historic Homestead Weekend

Joe Gibbs Racing could be in for a historic weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway — and in multiple ways.

The organization has two cars in the Championship 4 race for both the Sprint Cup Series and the XFINITY Series. Under the current Chase format, it’s the first team to have multiple cars eligible for the championship.

If JGR wins both titles, it would also mark the first time in NASCAR history that one team captures both series titles in the same season.

Twenty-year-old Erik Jones and Mexican-born Daniel Suarez will go for the XFINITY trophy on Saturday against JR Motorsports duo Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier.

If Jones wins the title, he’d be the first driver to win the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY championships in consecutive years, and he’d do it as a rookie of both series if he achieves it.

“It would be really sweet to go back-to-back with the Truck and XFINITY deal,” Jones said. “This is going to be one of my only shots in the near future to win an XFINITY championship.”

If Suarez wins the championship, he’ll be the first foreign-born driver to win a national championship in NASCAR.

“I made the move to the U.S. when I wasn’t even speaking English,” Suarez said. “I’m very proud to have friends with a lot of help, and now we put ourselves in the position to win a championship.”

On the Cup side, defending champion Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are up against six-time winner Jimmie Johnson and Phoenix winner Joey Logano.

If Busch takes the checkered flag on Sunday, he’d be the first back-to-back winner since Johnson, who won five straight championships from 2006-2010.

For Edwards, it would be the first Cup title of his career. In 2011, he faced off with Tony Stewart in the season finale for the championship and lost a tiebreaker in points because the Stewart-Haas Racing driver-owner had more wins on the year.

“It’s going to interesting trying to beat three guys,” Edwards said of the current Chase format. “Against one guy, it was a pretty singular focus. We’ll go to Homestead next week and try to win the race like we did at Texas.”

JGR has been the strongest team in both series in 2016, winning 17 of 32 XFINITY events and 12 of 35 races in the Cup Series this year. So what does team owner Joe Gibbs think of the upcoming weekend?

With the opportunity to win back-to-back Cup trophies, Gibbs told POPULAR SPEED, “It would be a huge deal for us — we would love it. We have cars that are going to be very tight and competitive, and you have great competitors going for it.”

And in a fight against JRM for NASCAR’s second-tier championship, he added, “We have two cars and they have two cars. It will be an interesting battle.”

Gibbs won the Super Bowl as the head coach of the Washington Redskins three times in his NFL career. As a team owner in NASCAR, he has four Cup championships and one XFINITY championship. He preaches the idea of teamwork and knows that one driver can’t win by himself.

“I don’t think it’s one thing in pro sports, it’s everything,” Gibbs said. “We have a lot of supportive people at the race shop. From everyone working on our cars to our front office, our great sponsors, and associates, it’s been a little bit of everything. We got to have crew chiefs, drivers, and pit crews. It’s always a total team effort.”

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
XFINITY

Bumgarner Named Crew Chief for Sadler

Elliott Sadler’s quest for a NASCAR XFINITY Series title didn’t get any easier this week.

JR Motorsports race operations manager, Mike Bumgarner, will serve as Sadler’s crew chief for the No. 1 OneMain Financial Chevrolet Camaro team, a role typically filled by Kevin Mendering.

Mendering is serving a one-race suspension this weekend as a result from last weekend’s Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway where NASCAR officials found two lug nuts that were not tightened enough to their satisfaction.

NASCAR announced the infraction and penalty after the race. It was the second consecutive week NASCAR contested Sadler’s car in the post-race lug nut inspection, following a single nut loose post-race at Texas. NASCAR did state the suspension was directly a result from the two lug nuts at Phoenix, not a compound penalty.

Sadler can take solace in that Bumgarner has been around the sport for a while. The 22-year veteran spent 18 seasons at Hendrick Motorsports, helping to prepare cars for Terry Labonte, Jeff Gordon, and Kyle Busch. In 2007, he was the crew chief for Kyle Busch’s No. 5 Chevrolet team, and went to Victory Lane four times, while also winning three pole awards.

In 2013, Bumgarner started working for JR Motorsports as the crew chief of the No. 5 XFINITY Series entry, driven by Kasey Kahne and Brad Sweet. Following the 2013 season, he was promoted to his current position as race operations manager.

“We let Kevin ultimately make this decision because it’s his team,” said JR Motorsports general manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller. “Kevin chose Mike to sit in the crew chief’s seat for good reason – he is experienced atop the pit box and very dependable. We have a great deal of confidence in Mike to give Elliott his best opportunity to win on Saturday.”

Sadler is coming off of a 13th-place run at Phoenix, which was good enough to make him one of the four drivers that remain eligible in the XFINITY Series season finale. As one of the Championship 4, Sadler is vying for his first XFINITY Series title. He finished runner-up in the standings in 2011 and 2012 to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The 41-year-old Emporia, Virginia native has three wins this season, along with 13 top-fives and 28 top-10s in 32 starts.

The other three drivers comprising the Championship 4 are JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier, and Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones. No driver in the Championship 4 has ever won an XFINITY Series title.

The Ford Ecoboost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway can be seen on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN and can be heard on the Motor Racing Network (MRN).

Shane Carlson is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL SHANE AT shane.carlson@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @ShaneCarlson4

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.