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ERIK JONES SCORES XFINITY SERIES WIN AT TMS
By John Sturbin
Drop the green flag on a NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, and Erik Jones is money.
Jones scored his second series victory in five starts in Fort Worth Saturday afternoon, dominating the 110-lap third segment of the 21st annual My Bariatric Solutions 300.
Jones, who also won Stage 1 after 45 laps, conquered TMS’ repaved and re-profiled 1.5-mile oval to become the sixth different XFINITY winner in as many 2017 starts. Jones won his first series start at TMS from pole position in 2015, and had not finished worse than fourth in three subsequent starts leading into Saturday’s 200-lap/300-miler.
“It’s been a good track for me,” said Jones, who in addition to his success also celebrated his high school graduation at Texas Motor Speedway in June of 2014 during pre-race ceremonies for a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and went on to finish 11th.
“The first time I came here, it’s funny, it really wasn’t that good to me,” Jones said. “But after that it just kind of clicked and I felt really good here ever since. The repave was really treacherous to start the weekend and this is a nice way to bounce back for myself after going to a backup (Friday) in the Cup car. Hopefully this is a good start for tomorrow. We have a long ways to go, but great win today and nice to get this Camry to Victory Lane.”
Jones wrecked his primary Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota during Friday’s extended practice, and will start Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 in his backup Camry from the 36th grid spot.
Jones finished 0.512 seconds ahead of Ryan Blaney and the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang. Kevin Harvick rounded out the podium in the No. 41 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford.
Jones took the lead for good during a round of green flag pit stops on Lap 156, setting up a final segment dash with Blaney and Harvick. Jones led three times for a race-high 112 laps.
“I think we just had to look at what the track was doing over the race and kind of how the track changed what our car did,” said Jones, accompanied by car owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Chris Gabehart in the post-race press conference. “We really didn’t make many adjustments. Chris did a great job last night trying to get the car freed up for today. The track was definitely a lot tighter. Just cool to get back to Victory Lane.“
Jones posted his first win and third top-10 result of 2017 as well as his fifth top-five finish in five starts at Texas Motor Speedway.
Blaney earned his fourth top-10 XFINITY finish in four races at TMS as well as his second top-10 of the season in the car fielded by Penske Racing.
“I thought our car was pretty good all day,” said Blaney, who led twice for 43 laps. “The No. 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 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.”
Austin Dillon finished fourth and was followed by rookie Cole Custer and for the sixth consecutive race Darrell Wallace Jr. finished sixth. Rookie William Byron finished seventh, followed by Ty Dillon, rookie Matt Tifft and Elliott Sadler, who exited Texas with a six-point lead over JR Motorsports teammate Byron in the series standings.
Custer, driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford, also was the highest-finishing XFINITY Series driver as Jones, Blaney, Harvick and Austin Dillon are Cup Series regulars and ineligible to score XFINITY points.
“We had an awesome Haas Automation Mustang, we just had to bide our time,” Custer said. “We kept getting stuck on the outside on the restarts and had to wait and wait until we got track position on the bottom. We had a really strong run. I can’t thank everybody enough who made this happen. I feel like I’m getting more and more comfortable as I get experience and used to racing everybody. We’re making strides, both me and the team.”
In addition to the victory, Jones also won the opening stage of the My Bariatric Solutions while rookie William Byron captured the second stage.