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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Q&A with Brandon Jones

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Wednesdays were an important part of the week for Brandon Jones.

That was the day the Atlanta native and some high school friends would leave school and head to Braselton, Georgia, home of Lanier Raceplex.

“We thought we were ready to race,” Jones told NBC Sports of one of his early racing memories. “The first ever race was me and two other guys out there on a little short track racing. … I ran around this guy forever. Didn’t pass him, didn’t hit him. Just ran really conservative. I wanted to pass him, but I just couldn’t figure out how to do it.”

He’d figure it out, but years later, Jones would find himself in similar positions. In 2016, Jones competed in his rookie campaign in the Xfinity Series driving the No. 33 for Richard Childress Racing. It was his first full-time season in any NASCAR series.

“I caught myself doing a lot of things, like putting myself in a lot of small holes that I normally wouldn’t have taken,” Jones said of his rookie season. “That became a habit as I was racing with those guys that have more experience. I didn’t even know I was doing it and then I was looking back, ‘Holy crap, I didn’t even know I could do that.’ Seeing how far I could take myself. I found some limits.”

In February, Jones took some of the lessons and put them toward earning the pole for the Xfinity Series opener at Daytona International Speedway. It was his first pole in 69 NASCAR starts.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: If you were in the Cup night race at Bristol, what would be your introduction song?

Jones: Man, I have put a lot of thought into this, too. Probably “House of the Rising Sun” by Five Finger Death Punch.

NBC Sports: Why a cover of the original?

Jones: They kind of took old school, western themes at the beginning and I kind of like that style now. Outlaw, western stuff like that. The cowboy-type stuff, I enjoy it. I don’t like the middle part though. I’m not a heavy metal death fan. I love country music, they kind of flipped flopped on it.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Jones: My first car was a Dodge Ram pickup truck. I ended up later, after I moved up here to North Carolina, meeting a buddy through racing. We ended up lifting it up and putting a big motor in it and stuff. That turned into not a daily driver.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car, whether it be a race car or street car?

Jones: My big red Dodge, everyone called it “Clifford” in high school.

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?

Jones: Probably going up in one of the F-16 fighter jets, something like that. I enjoy doing things with the military, I’ve gone out and trained with them before and I’ve done obstacle courses and done a lot of cool stuff with them. Flying in one of the jets is something I haven’t done. … That’s next on the list.

NBC Sports: What’s the best race you’ve ever seen in person?

Jones: It probably wasn’t the best race I’ve ever seen, but it was the most exciting for me. It was Las Vegas (Motor Speedway) a long time ago, my very first race ever that I went to. I was pretty young, this was probably in 2009 or so. I was just overwhelmed by the racing. I went to driver intros and all that stuff. I made the ultimate fan day out of it.

NBC Sports: What do you remember about the first time you met Richard Childress?

Jones: It was the same day I think. Looking back on it it’s crazy that I knew him so young … I met the Dillon boys. They were (about) 13 and up in one of his suites playing video games and stuff and not even caring about the race. It was pretty funny. It’s cool to see how we all work together now. Just a small world type deal.

NBC Sports: Growing up, who was your favorite NASCAR driver?

Jones: It was whoever won the previous week. I didn’t have a clue … about driver personalities or anything. Every week it was like ‘Oh man, Jimmie Johnson was the winner that week, so he’s going to win next week.’ I bounced back and forth between a lot of them. But I did have a lot of Jimmie Johnson gear. I had the jacket and the necklace and an action figure.

NBC Sports: You had a Jimmie Johnson action figure?

Jones: I did, yeah. It was kind of like a stationary one. It was on a platform.

NBC Sports: What would be your dream concert?

Jones: I just knocked Granger Smith off my bucket list, and he’s probably my favorite country music singer. … He’s got a couple of songs that are just starting to take off, like top five on the country music charts. We actually arranged to hang out with him before the concert, so we got to see him before he went on stage. The only thing I want to see now, and I think we’re going to in Charlotte, is (Granger Smith at the Circle K) Speed Street (Festival). … When we saw him he didn’t have his full band with him, it was just him playing his guitar and singing. I think the one in Charlotte he’s coming to, he’s bringing the entire band. That will be my next one to go see.

Previous Xfinity Spotlight Q&A’s

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

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Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. His first oval win since Kansas Speedway a year ago validates the team’s 1.5-mile speed in the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Mark it down, he wins and advances to the next round to continue his quest for a second title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. keeps his foot on the throat of the competition and gets his sixth win of the year at a 1.5-mile track.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kyle Larson is starting 13th but expect him to get to the top five within the first 20-30 laps. He needs a strong run to give him momentum heading into the Round of 8 and he gets it Sunday.

Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – James “Jim” Watson, a fabricator for Furniture Row Racing, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack, the team stated Sunday morning. Watson was 55.

A native of Greenfield, Wisconsin, Watson had been a member of Furniture Row Racing since February. He worked for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-15 and spent last season with HScott Motorsports. He was a long-time racer, competing in dirt late models and asphalt super late models throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

Watson was with the team this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

He is survived by wife Laurie and daughter Brittany.

“On behalf of Furniture Row Racing we extend our deepest sympathies to Jim’s family,” said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “He was an outstanding and talented member of our racing family, whose life was dedicated to racing since his early days as a race-car driver in Wisconsin. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim’s wife Laurie, daughter Brittany and to his entire family and friends. Our No. 77 and 78 teams will be racing with heavy hearts today.”

Ryan Blaney ready to prove doubters wrong

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Ryan Blaney has a bit of a chip on his shoulder this weekend.

The 23-year-old driver for the Wood Brothers seeks to hold off three former champions today at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) for a spot in the next round of the Cup playoffs.

Even though former champions Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth trail Blaney in the points, some say Blaney won’t hold them off and advance to the Round of 8.

“I’ve heard that all week that we don’t really deserve to be here, so that kind of ticked me off a little bit,’’ Blaney said Friday after qualifying.

“They just say we’ve been kind of overachieving or they didn’t expect us to be here. Those little things kind of make you a little bit irritated because our guys do just as good a job as anybody. They deserve to be here. They work their tails off like anybody else. Hopefully, we can prove that Sunday.’’

MORE: Wood Brothers lifeline started with a phone call

Blaney’s job, though, will be more difficult. He will start last in the 40-car field because his car failed inspection after qualifying. Kenseth (third), Busch (seventh) and Johnson (13th) all start in the top 15 and should be able to work their way into the top 10 to score stage points by Lap 80 when the first stage ends. Blaney will be challenged to do so and could see his advantage on each shrink. 

There’s hope for Blaney because he posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Cup practice. But he ranked ninth in average over 10 consecutive laps — behind Busch and Kenseth.

“There’s definitely things we can improve on,’’ Blaney said after placing third in Saturday’s Xfinity race. “(In the Cup race) everyone is going to be kind of married to the wall pretty early in a run. It might be hard to pass. Hopefully, we can work the bottom. I think the Cup cars might wear the top out, might over-rubber it where we have to move down a little bit.’’

With starting in the rear of the field, changing weather conditions (the wind is not expected to be as prevalent today as Saturday) and facing an elimination race, it would be easy for the pressure build on a driver and team.

“I really don’t feel that it’s a different weekend,’’ he said, alluding to the battle for the final playoff spots. “More people are paying attention to it because it’s a big deal. There’s four cars pretty much going for two spots. We try to approach it as any other weekend. It will be more challenging coming from the back.’’

Along with starting at the rear for the penalty, Blaney’s team had to pick last for pit stalls for failing inspection after qualifying.

His team would have had the third pick and he would have had an opening either before or after his stall, making it easier to either enter or exit. Now, he’ll be sandwiched between Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Provided both stay on the lead lap, Blaney could face challenges squeezing into his stall throughout the race.

“It doesn’t help our situation for sure,’’ Blaney said. “Those are two good cars. We’ll kind of be pitched between them all day. Dale actually sent me a text. Teams work well with each other about that. That will be tough for us. That will be another challenge.’’

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Today’s Cup race at Kansas: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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It’s once again elimination time in the NASCAR Cup Series.

The playoff field will be cut from 12 to eight drivers following today’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. will be looking to earn his sixth win on a 1.5-mile track this year. He won the last visit to Kansas Speedway in May.

Here’s all the important info you need ahead of the race, which will air on NBCSN.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Jay Hernandez will give the command to start engines at 3:07 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 3:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 267 laps (400 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 80. Stage 2 ends at Lap 160.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 30

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 9:30 a.m. Driver-crew chief meeting is at 1 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:20 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Angie Rosner will perform the anthem at 3:01 p.m..

TV/RADIO:  NBCSN will broadcast the race at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 2:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com, starting with its pre-race show at 2 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 67 degrees and no chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Martin Truex Jr. led the final 19 laps to win in May. He beat Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Harvick is the defending winner of this race. He beat Carl Edwards and Joey Logano last October.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup