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Connection between Erik Jones and Chris Gabehart was years in the making

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The Erik Jones-Chris Gabehart relationship didn’t start with a January 8 press release from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Although paired together for Jones’ rookie Xfinity Series season, the two, in fact, go way back. To October 2012.

Jones was given what turned out to be the start of his big break. A mutual friend suggested to Gabehart, who was working with Kyle Busch at the time, to let Jones shake down Busch’s Late Model for the All American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee. Busch would need an extra hand since he was going to be traveling from Talladega Superspeedway.

“Of course Kyle loves racing Late Models and wants to win all the big ones, and that’s one he hadn’t won yet,” Gabehart recalled Wednesday during a teleconference ahead of the Xfinity Series championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “But we had to be in Talladega. We were knocked out of the Chase, so we needed somebody to practice the car, and we had actually went through a few different names, names I think you all would probably know, and finally got to Erik as one who could do it and be willing to do it.”

Jones was 16 years old and had driven in very few Late Model races. He had also never been to Nashville before. Combine all that with getting behind the wheel of one of Busch’s racecars and Gabehart acknowledges the pressure that was put on Jones. But Gabehart easily remembers how fast Jones was and how well he dialed the car in.

“Just handled himself great,” Gabehart said. “Truthfully, that weekend while he didn’t get to race, was really the building block for the Snowball Derby. It allowed Erik and Kyle to get to know each other.”

Said Jones: “That was a cool experience for me. I remember going down there, and they gave me per diem, and I was like, ‘Man, this is pretty cool. I feel like I’m getting paid to drive a racecar.’ So that was a pretty neat experience and definitely one that I think played into getting my opportunity over at KBM.”

That’s where the Snowball Derby, run in December, comes in. Jones, in family-owned equipment, beat Busch in the most prestigious Late Model race in the country. Between that and the Nashville test, it appeared to be the tipping point for Busch in giving Jones a shot in NASCAR equipment.

“Erik did such a good job for us (in Nashville) that when we got to the Snowball Derby and Erik put up such a battle, David kind of beating Goliath there with 20 to go in a shootout, the foundation was already laid, and at that point Kyle was like, wow, this kid has got something,” Gabehart said.

Jones quickly rose through the Camping World Truck Series, winning four times in the 17 races he ran between 2013-14. In 2015, running full-time, Jones won three more times and took home the championship.

His move into the Xfinity Series resulted in a reunion with Gabehart, who was moved from a race engineer role in the Sprint Cup Series, to overseeing the No. 20 team. Jones and Gabehart have earned eight poles, led 624 laps, and won four races.

Saturday, they will be one of four teams competing for the championship at Homestead. Something that seems amazing to Gabehart when looking at how the two first met and how far Jones has come.

“It was really neat to be a part of all of that,” Gabehart said of 2012. “I think without any one of those little things going the way they did, there’s a good chance Erik Jones wouldn’t be where he is today, and that’s pretty special to be a part of.”

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Despite crash, Elliott Sadler maintains lead in Xfinity points standings after Charlotte

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Despite finishing 35th because of a late crash, Elliott Sadler maintained his Xfinity Series points lead Saturday after the Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sadler remained six points ahead of JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier. Teammate William Byron is ranked third.

With Allgaier and Ryan Reed qualified for the playoffs via victories, provisional playoff spots basesd off points currently belong to Sadler, Byron, Daniel Hemric, Darrell Wallace Jr., Brennan Poole, Matt Tifft, Michael Annett, Blake Koch, Cole Custer and Dakoda Armstrong.

Click here for the Xfinity points standings after Charlotte.

Xfinity Series results and statistics from Charlotte Motor Speedway

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Ryan Blaney scored the fifth Xfinity Series victory of his career and first since September 2015, winning the Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Blaney seized the lead from runner-up Kevin Harvick on a restart with three laps remaining.

Austin Dillon, Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.

Blaney led a race-high 107 of 200 laps.

Click here for full results from Saturday’s Xfinity race at Charlotte.

Ryan Blaney wins Charlotte Xfinity race for first victory in series since September 2015

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CONCORD, N.C. — Ryan Blaney won Saturday’s Hisense 4K TV 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Blaney took the lead from Kevin Harvick on a restart with three laps to go.

It’s his fifth Xfinity Series win and the first for Team Penske in 2017. It’s Blaney’s first Xfinity victory since Sept. 26, 2015 at Kentucky Speedway.

Blaney was followed by Harvick, Austin Dillon, Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin.

“I thought we were going to run out of laps to make it happen,” Blaney said, who was aided by a series of rapid cautions in the closing laps.

“We got a good restart and I was able to barely stay on (Harvick’s) quarter (panel) off of (Turn) 2 and dragged him back into (Turn) 3,” Blaney told Fox Sports 1. “I’m very proud, but you’re going to feel really bad if you mess up and don’t win. That’s what I thought was going to happen. I didn’t know if we were going to get our shot to get back to the lead. I don’t want to say the caution went our way because we kind of needed long runs. But they worked out so we could put ourselves in a position to  capitalize on it.”

Driving the No. 12 Ford, Blaney led four times for 107 laps on the way to the victory. Blaney raced to the front after starting from the rear for unapproved adjustments. He is the first driver to win after going to the rear since Marcos Ambrose at Montreal in 2011.

Blaney’s win comes 11 year after his father, Dave Blaney, won the fall Xfinity race at Charlotte. They are the first father-son duo to win at Charlotte in the Xfinity Series.

Stage 1 winner: Kevin Harvick

Stage 2 winner: Ryan Blaney

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: On the third lap of his Xfinity career, Christopher Bell was turned by Ryan Reed on the frontstretch and slid through the grass. He continued on and battled back to finish fourth. …. Brennan Poole brought out a caution with 42 to go after he got into the frontstretch wall, but managed to finish eighth. … Brad Keselowski finished sixth after starting 39th. He started there after multiple trips through inspection kept him from making a qualifying run. … Brendan Gaughan finished ninth after he spun exiting Turn 4 late in the race.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Michael Annett’s day ended with 25 to go when he got into the wall on a restart and went to the garage. He finished 36th …. On the next restart, points leader Elliott Sadler spun in Turn 4 and hit the inside wall hard. He was uninjured and finished 35th … Darrell Wallace Jr. was having his best race of the year, including leading three laps in the final stage, when it came unraveled. He brushed the Turn 4 wall with seven laps to go. He then lost a tire and spun in Turn 2. He finished 28th.

NOTABLE: Not counting the end of each stage, the race was slowed by 10 cautions.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Give him a sponsor, man. He passed me on a restart and drove away from me. It was awesome.” – Ryan Blaney on his battle for the lead with Darrell Wallace Jr. at the start of the final stage.

WHAT’S NEXT: OneMain Financial 200 at Dover International Speedway at 1 p.m. ET on June 2 on Fox Sports 1.

Kyle Larson fastest in final practice for Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Larson topped the final practice session for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 with a speed at 186.400 mph.

The Cup points leader, Larson will start 39th in the race because his No. 42 Chevrolet didn’t clear inspection in time to qualify.

Ryan Blaney (185.861), Matt Kenseth (185.046), Kurt Busch (184.856) and Erik Jones (184.818) rounded out the top five.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was seventh fastest at 184.433 mph. Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick was 20th fastest at 182.648 mph.

Jimmie Johnson recorded the most laps in the session with 47.

Jamie McMurray had the best 10-lap average at 180.914 mph.

The session was stopped for a caution once after Brad Keselowski spun exiting Turn 4.

Click here for the full practice report.