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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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Starting lineup for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

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Sunday’s main event of the weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup race, will have a definite Chip Ganassi Racing flavor when the green flag drops.

Pole sitter Kyle Larson will lead the 38-car field to the starting line, while CGR teammate Jamie McMurray will be his wing man, alongside on the front row.

Larson is hoping to do the same thing Sunday that he did last Sunday at Michigan: he started from the pole and finished with the win. He and McMurray are in Chevrolets, while Toyotas make up Row 2 with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.

Row 3 has the Chevrolet of A.J. Allmendinger and the Ford of Danica Patrick, who will be the highest-starting driver for both Ford and Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s Patrick’s third-best career start in a Cup race, and her highest start since Charlotte in May 2014.

The defending race winner, Tony Stewart, retired at the end of last season from NASCAR Cup competition.

Click here for the full row-by-row starting lineup.

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Elliott Sadler remains No. 1 in Xfinity standings after Iowa race

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Elliott Sadler remains atop the Xfinity Series point standings following Saturday night’s American Ethanol e15 250 at Iowa Speedway.

Sadler finished eighth in what was his 800th career NASCAR start across all three major series: Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

JR Motorsports drivers own the top three spots in the standings: Sadler holds a 25-point lead over teammate Justin Allgaier and a 57-point edge on another teammate and Saturday’s race winner, William Byron, who is third in the Xfinity standings.

Daniel Hemric is fourth, 146 points behind Sadler, while Ryan Reed is 155 points behind in fifth place.

Click here for Xfinity points report.

MORE: Race results from Saturday night’s American Ethanol e15 250 at Iowa

MORE: William Byron takes first Xfinity win at Iowa, avenges close loss at Michigan

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Race results from Saturday night’s American Ethanol e15 250 at Iowa

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William Byron bounced back from last weekend’s razor-thin loss at the finish line to Denny Hamlin at Michigan to earn his first career Xfinity Series victory Saturday night under the lights at Iowa Speedway.

Byron, who won seven Truck races last season, roared to the front late in the race after a final restart and held on to become the youngest race winner (19 years old) at the .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa.

MORE: William Byron takes first Xfinity win at Iowa, avenges close loss at Michigan

MORE: Elliott Sadler remains No. 1 in Xfinity standings after Iowa race

In a unique backstory to the race outcome, each of the top four finishers recorded Xfinity Series career-best showings, while Dakoda Armstrong tied his career-best Xfinity finish.

Click here for the full results from Saturday’s race.

 

William Byron takes first Xfinity win at Iowa, avenges close loss at Michigan

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One week after missing out on a win by .012 of a second, William Byron broke through for his first career Xfinity victory, capturing Saturday night’s American Ethanol e15 250 at Iowa Speedway.

The 19-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina native’s previous best Xfinity finish was second, when he lost out to Denny Hamlin at the start-finish line in last weekend’s race at Michigan, but Byron would not be denied Saturday night under the lights, becoming the youngest Xfinity winner on the .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa.

In earning his first win in his 14th career Xfinity start, Byron took the lead late in the race and kept a number of drivers at bay in the closing laps. He also qualified for the Xfinity Series playoffs. He also became the first first-time winner in the Xfinity Series this season.

“It feels awesome,” Byron told Fox Sports 1. “I think we had a first- or second-place car, got a little bit loose on one run and then we got back on cycle there at the end and were able to take off. It’s really cool.”

MORE: Race results from Saturday night’s American Ethanol e15 250 at Iowa

MORE: Elliott Sadler remains No. 1 in Xfinity standings after Iowa race

Ryan Sieg finished second, followed Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain and Dakoda Armstrong.

Sixth through 10th were Michael Annett, Jeremy Clements, JR Motorsports teammates Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier, and 10th-place finisher Garrett Smithley.

This was how close Byron lost to Denny Hamlin last weekend at Michigan.

HOW BYRON WON: In much the same way he won several of his seven Truck Series races last season, Byron quietly stalked the leaders through much of the race. Then, following a wreck that involved Christopher Bell, Ryan Reed and Brennan Poole with 32 laps to go, Byron worked his way to the front as the final laps ticked off and won.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Interestingly, all of the top-four finishers earned their career-best Xfinity showings: Byron (1st), Sieg (2nd), Reddick (3rd) and Chastain (4th), while Armstrong tied his career-best finish (5th).

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Sam Hornish Jr. came in as the defending winner and kicked off a multi-race deal with Team Penske with this race. He was running in the top-5 when Christopher Bell got into Hornish on Lap 80, sending him into the wall and ending his night. … Seymour, Wisconsin’s Ty Majeski had a good night going in his Xfinity Series debut until he was involved in a solo wreck on Lap 145 that also ended his night.

NOTABLE: Polesitter Christopher Bell won Stage 1, while Brendan Gaughan won Stage 2, his first stage win of the season. … Elliott Sadler made his 800th career NASCAR start across all three major series (Cup, Xfinity and Trucks).

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “We had four fresh tires and I just feel like we should have had a victory. I thought the odds were in our favor. … I feel like we gave one away here. It’s going to be a tough one to swallow.” – Third-place finisher Tyler Reddick.

WHAT’S NEXT: Firecracker 250, June 30, 7:30 p.m. ET, Daytona International Speedway.

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