Brandon Jones

Friday 5: Will Daytona Speedweeks repeat last year’s chaos?

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As a new Speedweeks dawns, NASCAR teams hope this year won’t be a repeat of the carnage that took place a year ago at Daytona International Speedway.

One hundred and six vehicles were listed as involved in accidents in Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series races during Speedweeks last year, according to race reports.

That was a 29.2 percent increase from the previous Speedweeks.

Only once in the last 10 years were more vehicles damaged in races during Speedweeks. There were 122 vehicles in accidents in 2012.

The numbers were high last year because so many accidents took place at the front of the field — where drivers say they want to be because they believe it is the safest place.

A 17-car crash in the Daytona 500 was triggered when Jimmie Johnson, running third, was hit from behind.

An 11-car crash in the Daytona 500 started when Chase Elliott’s car was hit after a restart as Elliott was fourth.

The Xfinity race had a 20-car wreck that started when Tyler Reddick was hit from behind while running seventh.

A 16-car crash in the Xfinity race began when Elliott Sadler, running second, was hit from behind.

A 12-car crash in the Xfinity race started when Brandon Jones was hit while running fifth.

A 12-vehicle crash in the Truck race started when Matt Crafton, who was leading, was hit in the right side. Crafton’s truck went airborne.

Will last year be the start of a trend or prove to be an anomaly? This will be worth keeping an eye on in the coming days.

2. FASTER SPEEDWEEKS?

With Cup going to the no ride-height rule, the question is if the cars will be faster — and by how much — since they will be closer to the ground. NASCAR also added half an inch of spoiler to offset the elimination of the ride height requirement.

NASCAR expects speeds to be about the same but a prominent team expects speeds to climb possibly as much as 8 mph.

Chase Elliott won the pole last year with a lap of 192.872 mph. The fastest lap in practice last year came in the final session before the Daytona 500 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went 198.452 mph in the draft.

Even if speeds increase, NASCAR has made improvements to the cars to where it should be less likely for a car to get airborne on its own. NASCAR stated that 201 mph previously was the minimum speed for liftoff. Now it’s 233 mph. Of course, if a car hits another in a particular way it can launch it regardless of the speed they’re going.

3. EASIER TO OFFICIATE

Xfinity cars will have a new lower front fascia with a 4-inch ride height at the restrictor-plate tracks. This is intended to eliminate bump drafting. If all goes as NASCAR officials plan, the changes will create a gap of about 1.5 feet between cars, making it easier to police the matter. 

4. GOING FOR 4 IN A ROW

The No. 24 car — driven by rookie William Byron this season — is going for its fourth consecutive Daytona 500 pole. Jeff Gordon won the pole in 2015 with that number and Chase Elliott did the same in 2016 and ’17.

5. WILL DAYTONA STREAK CONTINUE?

Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500 victory last year marked the eighth consecutive year a different driver won the season-opening race.

That streak includes Denny Hamlin (2016), Joey Logano (2015), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2014), Jimmie Johnson (2013), Matt Kenseth (2012), Trevor Bayne (2011) and Jamie McMurray (2010).

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Menards, vendors to sponsor Brandon Jones in Xfinity Series

Joe Gibbs Racing
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Menards home improvement stores and some of its partner vendors will sponsor Brandon Jones‘ No. 19 Toyota in 10 Xfinity Series races, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Thursday.

Jones, in his first year with JGR, will have one partner-specific brand on his hood in each of Menards’ races.

Menards was a sponsor of Jones the last three years at Richard Childress Racing. The company will sponsor both Paul Menard and Ryan Blaney in the Cup Series this season.

Menards, also the title sponsor of the ARCA Racing Series, has been involved in NASCAR since 2001.

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Joe Gibbs Racing 2018 Xfinity lineup: Christopher Bell, Brandon Jones, Ryan Preece

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Joe Gibbs Racing announced Wednesday it will campaign three full-time Xfinity cars in 2018:

Bell will drive the No. 20 Toyota Camry. His crew chief will be Jason Ratcliff, whose final stint with Matt Kenseth in the Cup Series is Sunday in Miami.

Bell has made seven Xfinity starts this season, scoring his first series win Oct. 21 at Kansas.

Bell is still in contention for the Truck championship, which will be decided in Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

  • After two-plus full-time Xfinity seasons with Richard Childress Racing, Brandon Jones moves to a similar full-time ride with JGR.

Brandon Jones will drive the No. 19 Toyota Camry. Chris Gabehart will be his crew chief.

Eric Phillips will serve as crew chief for Preece and the other drivers when they are behind the wheel of the No. 18.

Preece has made three Xfinity starts this season, with top-five finishes in each, including his first career win July 29 at Iowa Speedway. He will race in Saturday’s season-ending event.

Preece will drive an undetermined number of races in 2018. Busch, the all-time Xfinity wins leader with 91, will start a maximum of seven races. Fellow Cup drivers Hamlin, Erik Jones and Suarez will fill out the remaining races.

Erik Jones cruises to pole for tonight’s Xfinity race at Texas

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Erik Jones kept looking for speed in his Toyota Camry — and continually found it — to the point where he earned the pole for tonight’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.

Jones scored the pole with a speed of 191.272 mph.

Cole Custer was second (190.101 mph), followed by Matt Tifft (189.954), Ryan Blaney (189.900) and Elliott Sadler (189.653).

Sixth through 12th were Daniel Hemric (189.567), Austin Dillon (189.474), Christopher Bell (189.301), William Byron (189.235), Kyle Larson (188.580), Brandon Jones (187.793) and Brennan Poole (187.292).

Tonight’s race starts at 8:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on NBCSN.

Click here for the full qualifying speed chart.

Ryan Reed advances in Xfinity playoffs after intense battle with Brendan Gaughan

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CONCORD, North Carolina — Brendan Gaughan could see his playoff stakes in his rear-view mirror and on the scoring pylon.

“I’m a driver that pays attention to things,” Gaughan said. “It’s not like it’s not sitting there in front of my face.”

Ryan Reed was one spot behind him on the track, but one spot ahead of Gaughan in the playoff standings.

Behind Reed was Brandon Jones, Gaughan’s teammate at Richard Childress Racing and his last, best chance to advance to the second round of the Xfinity playoffs. If Jones passed Reed, Gaughan was in.

Those were the stakes for the last 10 laps of Saturday’s rain-delayed race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I knew (Jones) wanted that spot as bad as I wanted him to not have the spot,” Reed said. “I know him and Brendan are friends. He wanted to give him that gift. But obviously, I raced my guts out. That’s probably the hardest five laps I’ve ever driven in a race car.”

But the gift never arrived.

When the checkered flag fell on the Drive for the Cure 300, Gaughan finished 11th and was eliminated. Reed placed 12th and advanced to the second round for the second time.

Almost 50 laps earlier, Reed thought his night was over.

After a long night of battling Gaughan, Reed’s No. 16 Ford was running 22nd after becoming extremely loose and falling through the field. Gaughan sat 14th.

“Our setup, we would go really free on the long run,” said Reed, who thought he had a top-12 car on short runs. “It’s kind of like a light switch, once we seemed like we got that right rear (tire) at a certain temperature it was just gone.”

Reed was saved by a caution, courtesy of oil left on the track by the No. 52 of Joey Gase with 40 laps to go.

“There’s our gift,” Reed told his team over the radio.

A two-time Daytona winner, the 24-year-old Reed believes playoff races come down to “one or two moments where you’ve got to lay it all out on the line.”

The moment that ensured Reed would advance to the Round of 8 came with 17 to go. Reed was chasing Gaughan in 12th when they both came upon William Byron, who was dropping through the field on older tires after staying out the previous caution.

Exiting Turn 2, Gaughan dove beneath Byron. He left just enough room for Reed to squeeze between them.

“That was my best shot, and I honestly thought I cleared them both,” Reed said. “(Gaughan) did a real gnarly slide job down into (Turn) 3 and he did a heck of a job driving that thing to keep him in front of me.”

But Gaughan couldn’t track down Elliott Sadler for 10th and Jones couldn’t get to Reed.

Gaughan joined Blake Koch, Jeremy Clements and Michael Annett in being eliminated from title contention.

“Would have loved to have a caution,” Gaughan said. “That would have been awesome to have a late-race restart on that one. I’d have paid money for that.”

A “relieved” Reed and the remaining playoff drivers kick off the Round of 8 on Oct. 21 at Kansas Speedway.

“I’m going to enjoy this off week,” Reed said. “It’s kind of rude what they do honestly the way they schedule an off week. Because if you don’t advance, you’ve got a long time to think about it. So I’m glad I can think about going into Kansas and competing for a championship and having fun.”