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Erik Jones: ‘Nothing positive’ in disappointing Cup finish at Texas

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Erik Jones missed graduation ceremonies at his Michigan high school in 2014 because he was racing at Texas Motor Speedway.

But the Speedway went ahead and held a special graduation ceremony where Jones received his diploma – in cap and gown, no less – before shortly climbing into his race truck.

Erik Jones at his graduation ceremony, June 6, 2014, at Texas Motor Speedway.

In Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, Jones got an education of another kind.

And it was a valuable lesson learned, struggling to a 22nd-place finish in his second career Cup race at the newly repaved 1.5-mile track.

Jones’ teammate, Martin Truex Jr., finished eighth.

No matter what crew chief Chris Gayle tried, the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota Camry failed to respond, leaving Jones with a handful to drive for 500 miles.

That wasn’t all.

There was a pit road contact Chris Buescher that put a hole in the front end of Jones’ car early in the race, tire problems and even garbage stuck to the front end grill, leaving Jones and the No. 77 with their second-worst finish of the season.

“There’s really nothing we can take as a positive from this race that we can apply for the next time we’re here other than the need to get better,” Jones said in a media release. “We tried everything we could to make the 5-hour Energy Toyota Camry to handle better but nothing worked. It was just a very frustrating day for the entire Furniture Row Racing team.”

Actually, it was more of a frustrating weekend on the Cup side. While he won Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, Jones wrecked his primary Cup car in practice on Friday, failed to make an attempt in qualifying later that same afternoon and started 36th position.

Jones finished 20th at the end of both Stage 1 and Stage 2 in Sunday’s race and could not improve after that.

Jones, one of five drivers competing for NASCAR Cup Rookie of the Year, left Texas not only with a disappointing finish, but also dropped one spot in the standings to 14th.

“It was a frustrating race that forced Erik to have his hands full all day,” Gayle said. “It was one of those days that you hope doesn’t happen very often, or really at all, where you just don’t know what’s wrong with the car, the speed is just off and not consistent enough to race hard.

“We just struggled. It could have be a little bit of nose damage or something, but we totally missed it.”

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NASCAR America: Steve Letarte: Denny Hamlin showing ‘remarkable consistency’

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Things have been going relatively well for Denny Hamlin on the track in 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver enters this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway sixth in points. Through five races, he’s finished outside the top six once (17th, Las Vegas).

NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan discussed his season so far in addition to Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

Letarte said Hamlin has displayed “remarkable consistency.”

“Denny Hamlin is in my mind a super star driver that I know I am guilty of leaving him out of super star conversations,” Letarte said.

Ryan pointed to mistakes on pit road that have prevented Hamlin from enjoying more success this season and in his career overall. His result at Las Vegas was the result of a speeding penalty.

“Five races this season, four pit mistakes,” Ryan said. “He overshot his box at Daytona, he did that at Fontana, he sped in the pits at Phoenix. While I think they’ve had speed, I think that team is still stumbling in the same ways it has in the past. Unless they correct that, I don’t know if they’re championship level yet.”

Hamlin heads to Martinsville where he has won a career-best five races.

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Trevor Bayne on Charlotte Roval: ‘You have to be on your game’

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Rain washed out the second day of Goodyear tire testing Wednesday on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval. Goodyear has tentatively scheduled May 1 as a make-up test date.

Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Kyle Larson took part in the test Tuesday.

“I just took some slow pace laps and got a feel for the race track,” Bayne said in a statement from Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I was nervous, but I wasn’t anxious because I was never going to go out there and make qualifying laps. We worked our pace in and our plan, we stuck to it. I felt really good by the end of the day.

“You have to be on your game, that’s for sure. You can’t really let your guard down anywhere. There’s no room to make mistakes. If you make a mistake, you’re going to pay for it pretty quickly. If you try to do something and it doesn’t work, you’ll pay the price. It’s going to be a survival race. … If you’re smart, you take care of your car and you don’t make mistakes, you’ll have a really good shot at the end for a good finish. I enjoyed it. It was a challenge for me – something new – and I enjoyed that part of it.”

Organizational tests at Charlotte will be in July. There will be two different sessions. Each team is allowed to test at one of the two sessions, which will be July 10 (rain date of July 11) and July 17 (rain date of July 18).

The Charlotte Roval hosts the final race of the first round of the Cup playoffs on Sept. 30 on NBC.

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NASCAR issues two fines for unsecured lug nuts at Auto Club Speedway

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NASCAR announced two crew chief fines for unsecured lug nuts last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

Adam Stevens, crew chief on Kyle Busch‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

In the Xfinity Series, Eric Phillips, the crew chief for Ryan Preece‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

No other penalties were announced.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Drivers to watch, favorite sports upsets

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and begins to look forward to this weekend’s racing at Martinsville Speedway.

Marty Snider hosts with Dale Jarrett, Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan from the “Big Oak Table” in Charlotte.

What to expect from today’s show.

  • The same names have been dominating the headlines in the first five races in the 2018 season. We will take a look at some of the other drivers to be on the lookout for as the season rolls on.
  • One of NASCAR’s most historic tracks is up this weekend – Martinsville! We’ll check out some of the recent drama “The Paperclip” has provided ahead of the race.
  • In the spirit of March Madness, our panel will tell us about their most memorable sports moments, as well as some of NASCAR’s biggest upsets.
  • Plus, The Indianapolis 500 will have a new home in 2019. We’ll have all the details on NASCAR America.

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.