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Erik Jones’ career path has gone the same way as he drives: fast

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After winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in 2015, Erik Jones figured he’d spend two or three years in the Xfinity Series before eventually moving up to the NASCAR Cup Series.

After all, what was the rush? He’s only 20 years old.

But as it turned out, that two-to-three year gameplan in Xfinity that Joe Gibbs Racing had in mind was quickly reduced to just one year, the 2016 campaign.

Now, Jones finds himself in NASCAR’s premier series, driver of the No. 77 Toyota Camry and teammates with veteran Martin Truex Jr. at Furniture Row Racing.

Not only is this Jones’ first season in NASCAR Cup, it’s also Furniture Row’s first year as a two-car team. Up to this point over the last decade-plus, the Denver, Colorado-based FRR has been only a single-car team.

And with Monday’s announcement of a new points format and three stages in a race starting this season, Jones’ rookie season may be a bit more difficult than he anticipated because he may have to change his aggressive driving style somewhat.

“All throughout my career, I’ve been an all or nothing, checkers or wreckers driver,” Jones said Tuesday during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. “I think it’s definitely different this year.

“You have to rack up those points. The more bonus points you have, the better chance you have to make it to Homestead.”

Jones is the first graduate, so to speak, of the Toyota driver development program to reach the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

“When I joined KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) in 2013, Toyota was heavily invested into our sport but they didn’t have a driver development program like now,” Jones said. “It was me and Darrell Wallace. People forget. Toyota did a lot for me and has for me.”

Teaming with Truex will be valuable to Jones as he tries to learn the ropes of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

“I think Martin will be a great teammate,” Jones said. “For Furniture Row it will be so beneficial to have two cars at the track. That one extra car is pretty important. It should be good.

“… I think it’s going to be an exciting season with a new group of guys. It’s a team that’s really on the rise and is growing.”

One of the biggest personal challenges for Jones will be a rivalry with another young driver who was the Cup Series’ Rookie of the Year last season, Chase Elliott.

“I guess there sort of was that at the Late Model level,” Jones said. “We raced each other so much. I don’t know if it will carry to the Cup series. We weren’t wrecking; we just raced hard and were upset if we lost. Neither wanted to lose to each other.

“We felt we were competing against each other, trying to burst onto the NASCAR scene. It’d be good if we are running up front and running together (this season).”

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NASCAR America: Steve Letarte on challenges of avoiding speeding penalites

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NBC Sports analysts Steve Letarte joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast this week. One of the topics the former crew chief discussed is the challenge of avoiding speeding penalties on pit road. Letarte said the introduction of digital dashboards has made it even harder.

Watch the video to hear his thoughts.

NASCAR America: Comparing severity of Harvick, Keselowski and Allmendinger penalties

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NASCAR handed out two crew chief suspensions in the Cup this week following the race weekend in Phoenix while another was upheld on appeal.

Brad Keselowski‘s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, was suspended three races and the team was docked 35 driver and owners points for failing weights and measurements in post-race inspection.

Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, Rodney Childers, was suspended one race and the team docked 10 driver and owner points for an unapproved track bar slider assembly.

The penalties for AJ Allmendinger‘s team, including the suspension of crew chief Randall Burnett, was upheld after an appeal.

The NASCAR America crew debates which team is hurt the most by their penalties.

 

Mario Andretti tries out, approves of Charlotte Motor Speedway road course

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We now have two positive reviews of the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.

Following AJ Allmendinger‘s comments back in January, IndyCar legend Mario Andretti has shared his thoughts on the 2.4-mile circuit that will likely host a NASCAR Cup race in fall 2018.

As a guest of the track and the NASCAR Racing Experience, the 77-year-old driver piloted two cars – a 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid and a 2017 Cadillac CTS-V. Andretti maxed out at 177 mph in the Porsche.

“It’s very difficult sometimes to really create a road course where you can ‘stretch your legs’ inside an oval,” Andretti said in a press release. “From that standpoint, I think they did a good job by giving it rhythm by putting some banking to the hairpin corners – which obviously invites some overtaking. It’s wide enough that you can choose a line. You’re not really trapped. … It’s got a multiple-line (groove) that you can choose from, depending on the capability of the car.”

The “roval” circuit would use most of the 1.5-mile oval NASCAR already competes on.

Allmendinger took part in a data test on the road course in mid-January and later said it “was a lot of fun.”

Earlier this month, Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Marcus Smith said the track “learned a lot” from the test.

“We have done a lot to engineer a world-class road course that would include the ‘roval,'” Smith told NBC Sports, adding that “several truckloads of crash walls and catchfence” were being transported in for installation.

The Cup Series has two road courses on it schedule, at Sonoma Raceway in California and Watkins Glen International in New York.

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Drivers unhurt in crash of Furniture Row Racing hauler near Las Vegas Motor Speedway

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The drivers of the Furniture Row Racing hauler carrying Erik Jones’ No. 77 Toyota were uninjured Thursday in a hit-and-run accident 15 miles north of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Travis Watts, who was behind the wheel, and David Shano were traveling from Phoenix Raceway to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, when their tractor-trailer rig was struck shortly after midnight on Interstate 15, according to a team release. The team said a car carrying two occupants pulled off the shoulder and back onto the highway directly in front of the truck, causing front-end damage to the tractor.

The team said there was no damage to the trailer or its interior, which was carrying Jones’ cars.

“We’re all very relieved no one was injured in the incident,” team president Joe Garone said. “There was substantial damage to the tractor, but everything in the trailer was checked out thoroughly and is OK. We’ve rented a tractor and the No. 77 hauler is on schedule to arrive at Auto Club Speedway later (Thursday).”

The team rented a replacement tractor at a Rush Truck Centers in North Las Vegas.

According to the team, the Nevada Highway Patrol apprehended and arrested the occupants of the car. The team is working to supply police with a video dash cam from the No. 77 tractor.