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Big steps: Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones have best Cup career finishes

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Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones on Sunday took the biggest steps yet in their budding NASCAR Cup careers.

The Cup rookies and Toyota drivers both earned career-best finishes – both top-10 showings – in NASCAR’s premier series.

Suarez finished seventh, while Jones was right behind in eighth in the Camping World 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

It was Suarez’s fourth Cup race, all in 2017, while it was Jones’ seventh career Cup start (four in 2017, three in 2015).

“It’s a big deal because in the last two races we have struggled,” Suarez said. “We didn’t have the speed and the communication wasn’t great, but we’ve been working very hard trying to work on chemistry, communication and for sure we’ve been getting better.

“(Saturday) in the last practice, in the happy hour, I felt very good about the car. I feel like we were going to have a shot to have some fun in the race and I wasn’t wrong. The team did a very good job.”

Suarez’s finish was helped immensely by a lightning-fast pit stop to take two tires.

“The guys did an amazing job,” Suarez said. “They just did exactly what they had to do: a fast pit stop, two tires and the car was almost as good as four tires.”

Jones, meanwhile, had an inkling heading into Sunday’s race that a strong finish was potentially in the cards.

“We had it kind of coming here in the last couple of weeks,” Jones said. “We just had a few issues to iron out whether it be on pit road or on the race track. Just bad circumstances.

“Finally, everything kind of played out the way we needed it to. Didn’t quite work out at the end the way we were hoping. … We felt like we had a fifth place Camry but it just wasn’t in the cards. Good restart at the end, and we got back up to the top 10.”

Jones may have had a bit of an edge in Sunday’s race because he was among 13 teams that tested at Phoenix in early February.

“I think it helped a lot,” Jones said of the test. “It was able to at least give us a good baseline to start with.

“I think every time we start coming back to these tracks for the second time we’re just going to be that much better and that much stronger. It was a big deal. I hope we test somewhere else this year for sure.”

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Family affair: Harrison Burton celebrates first K&N Pro Series East win with parents

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Harrison Burton has been to NASCAR’s Victory Lane before. But that was when his dad, NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton, raced.

Saturday, Harrison Burton was in Victory Lane after winning his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race. Both his mom and dad were there to celebrate his first NASCAR win.

The 16-year-old Burton dominated Saturday’s rain-shortened Zombie Auto 125 at Bristol Motor Speedway, earning praise from current and former NASCAR competitors.

“One of my favorite races I can recall of my dad winning was here at Bristol,’’ Harrison Burton said of his father’s victory in 2008. “Me and my sister were jumping up and down when he won. I was really, really excited to win, and I’m sure he was excited to watch me win.

“It was really cool for me and him both to share a moment like that together. Obviously, my mom, as well, who has traveled the country with me while my dad was racing.’’

So what was the family celebration like this time?

“I didn’t say much,’’ Harrison Burton, a sophomore in high school, said. “I was just kind of laughing and smiling. I gave my mom a big hug and my dad a big hug as well. I think I lifted my mom off the ground. We were just pretty excited.’’

Harrison Burton led 68 of the 70 laps run before rain ended the race early. Ruben Garcia Jr. finished second. Spencer Davis was third, Hunter Baize placed fourth and Chad Finchum was fifth.

“Me and my crew chief were kind of talking like we wanted to run the whole race and win it that way,’’ Harrison Burton said. “We were confident enough to where we felt like our car was good enough that we could win the race. I felt like it would have been kind of cool to cross the line under dry conditions and do it that way. (But) I’ll take it. I was pretty happy when it started raining to be honest. I never wanted it to rain so bad in my life.’’

Harrison Burton leads the series standings with 129 points. He’s followed by Baize (114 points), Todd Gilliland (113), Ronnie Bassett Jr. (111) and Garcia (105).

The race will shown on NBCSN at 11 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 27.

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Jeremy Clements receives swollen left eye after punch from Ross Chastain

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Jeremy Clements said he was stunned when Ross Chastain “socked me” during a red flag delay during Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinty race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Chastain and Clements had contact during the race and then Clements hit Chastain during a caution for rain. The race soon was stopped and drivers exited their cars. Clements came up from behind Chastain.

“I put my hand on his back and turned him around,’’ Clements said. “I had no intention of hitting him, and he turned around and socked me. I had no intention of fighting the guy.’’

Said Chastain: “Somebody grabbed me and turned me around and I saw red eyes and a face that wasn’t going to talk.

“It was a reaction on my part. I’ve never punched anybody in my life. I don’t know what I’d do if I could do it all over again. I can’t let people come up and grab me. It’s happened before in NASCAR and out of NASCAR. I felt like I had to stand my ground.’’

Clements went to the infield care center to ice his left eye.

“It was swollen up pretty good,’’ Clements said. “He did punch me.”

He returned and finished 17th. Chastain finished 31st after he was later involved in an accident.

NASCAR met with both drivers after the race and will review the matter to decide if there are to be any penalties.

Chastain and Clements both said they’ve had run-ins with each other through the years.

“I’ve talked to him before and it doesn’t get us anywhere,’’ Clements said after the race and before meeting with NASCAR. “I don’t know what to do. I try to race him clean all the time. He cuts you no slack and sometimes we’re running for 22nd and 23rd and (he) just door slams you. It’s uncalled for.’’

Chastain said they talked it out in the NASCAR hauler and shook hands.

“I feel bad,’’ Chastain said. “We run against each other. We work together. We buy motors from them. They build our motors, so it’s not good for me to do that. We’re good and on to Richmond.’’

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Elliott Sadler leads top-three sweep by JR Motorsports in Xfinity points

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With a season-best fourth-place finish Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Elliott Sadler increased his lead in the Xfinity Series points standings.

Sadler leads JR Motorsports teammate William Byron by 16 points.

Justin Allgaier, who trails Sadler by 60 points, gives JR Motorsports the top three spots in the standings.

The top five is completed by Ryan Reed (76 points behind Sadler) and Daniel Hemric (80 points behind Sadler).

Click here for the full points standings.

Results and stats for Xfinity Series race at Bristol won by Erik Jones

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Erik Jones led the final 21 laps in order to win the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver outran Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez for his second win of the year and his second in a row.

The top five was filled out by Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric.

Click here for full race results.