furniture row racing

Erik Jones fails to live up to Bristol intro song, but earns best finish of Cup career

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Erik Jones made a pivotal mistake leading up to Saturday night’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He was one of six who forgot to choose their intro song prior to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.

“I don’t even know who picked my song,” Jones said.

The Furniture Row Racing driver can thank someone named “DJ Du” for stepping up.

As a result, Jones was “a little surprised” when he appeared at the top of a ramp in Turn 3 to be introduced as the pole-sitter for the night’s race. The sounds of DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” echoed throughout “Thunder Valley.”

“DJ Du” turned out not to be a prophet. But Jones did everything he could during the ensuing 500 laps to back up the song selection.

Making his 27th Cup start and his second at the .533-mile track, Jones led a career-high 260 laps. He matched wits with Kyle Busch, now a six-time Bristol winner, and Matt Kenseth, a four-time Bristol winner and the driver he’ll succeed in the No. 20.

The battle resulted in Jones finishing second, the best result of his Cup career.

Jones led nine times, swapping the lead with Busch, his former Camping World Truck Series owner, 10 times – three times in the last 139 laps.

Despite the lack of his first Cup trophy, Jones is confident it was the most fun he’s had to date in the Cup Series.

Though he’s only 21, the race reminded him of his good ol’ days driving modifieds.

“It takes you back to, you know, late model racing really more than anything,” Jones said. “You’re just on the gas. You’re not saving tires. You’re just hammer down and getting everything you can, which is a lot of fun. It’s hard on you as a driver, it wears you out, but you definitely have a lot of fun.”

Bristol, a track he’s won at twice in the Xfinity Series, reminds him of Winchester Speedway in Indiana, a .5-mile oval where he’s won three Winchester 400.

And he almost won like at Winchester.

Even Busch, who won all three Bristol races this week, thought it was Jones’ race to lose before he took the lead for good with 56 laps to go.

“He’s a phenomenal talent and a great race car driver,” said Busch, who first discovered Jones when he finished third to Jones in the 2012 Snowball Derby. “We knew that a long time ago. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing I found him or a bad thing I found him because one of these days I’m going to lose to him and I’m not going to be thrilled, but I’m still going to congratulate him.

“I thought today was actually going to be that day.”

Jones, who first experienced Cup action in 2015 when he relieved Denny Hamlin mid-race at Bristol, said leading a race for so long is a “burden,” especially for someone still figuring out how things work in the Cup Series.

“You’re letting all those guys be behind you get better and better and improve on their cars to gain up on you,” Jones said. “It’s hard to get your car better when you’re out front. You don’t really know what you need.”

If there was a burden, Jones said there was no pressure to win, even with a potential playoff spot waiting for him if he did visit victory lane.

With two races left in the regular season, he is 16th in the points standings but outside the 16-driver playoff grid.

“This was our best shot to win,” Jones said. “I was just actually really calm this week. I really had a sense we were going to run really well. … I feel really confident every time I come to Bristol. And, you know, kind of felt like we were going to be running up front, but just didn’t have enough.”

Saturday’s 500 laps left Jones the “most wore out” he’s been this season following a race, but he knows they’ll be instrumental when he finally gets to celebrate as Busch did Saturday night.

Said Jones: “You got to lose one to win one, right?”

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Erik Jones wins first career Cup pole for Bristol night race

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Rookie Erik Jones won the pole for Saturday’s Cup Series night race at Bristol Motor Speedway, earning the first pole of his Cup career.

The Furniture Row Racing driver grabbed the pole with a speed of 128.082 mph around the short track.

“That’s awesome,” Jones told NBCSN. “It’s cool anytime you get your first pole in a series, but to do it at Bristol, that’s pretty cool. I’m just excited. We’ve got a really good 5-Hour Energy Camry. We had a good week last week and we’ve done a good job keeping the momentum going so far.”

Jones joins Ryan Blaney as a first-time pole winner this season. He is the eighth driver to get his first pole at Bristol.

Jones will be joined on the front row by Kyle Larson (128.057).

Completing the top is Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Matt Kenseth.

Kahne will roll off from his best starting spot of the year in Saturday’s race. His previous best was fourth at Daytona in July.

Kyle Busch, seeking to sweep all three NASCAR races at the short track this week, will start 18th. He was fastest in the first round of qualifying.

Jimmie Johnson, who won at Bristol in April, will start 21st.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 31st in his final Cup start at Bristol Motor Speedway. If Earnhardt were to win Saturday, it would top his 2004 win at Bristol when he started 30th.

Kevin Harvick also failed to make it out of the first round. He will start 29th. The defending winner of the August race, he started 24th last year.

Click here for qualifying results.

Furniture Row Racing takes over management responsibility of pit crews from JGR

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Joe Gibbs Racing has relinquished management responsibility of the pit crews for the No. 77 and 78 teams to Furniture Row Racing, NBC Sports has confirmed.

Fox Sports 1’s Alan Cavanna first reported the change.

The move Wednesday means that Furniture Row Racing has complete control of its pit crews from a personnel side even though they remain Joe Gibbs Racing employees. The No. 77 and 78 crews can still train at Joe Gibbs Racing but any decisions related to performance or status for any race weekend will be made by Furniture Row Racing.

As part of its alliance, Joe Gibbs Racing supplies pit crew members to Furniture Row Racing. JGR suspended two members of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew for a confrontation with Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch, last month at Indianapolis after Busch and Truex crashed racing for the lead.

JGR suspended front tire changer Chris Taylor and rear tire changer Lee Cunningham three races each for the incident. Stevens was not penalized. Both Taylor and Cunningham return to Truex’s team this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Questions were raised immediately that the suspensions could provide JGR with a competitive advantage over Truex’s team.

People are always going to say all kinds of things,” car owner Joe Gibbs said July 30 at Pocono Raceway. “I don’t think you can worry about that. Obviously, they’ll be back.”

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Erik Jones misses out on first Cup win at home track

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On the biggest restart of his Cup Series career so far, Erik Jones had a choice to make.

He chose … poorly.

The rookie driver for Furniture Row Racing was in second place on the overtime restart of the Pure Michigan 400. To his right was teammate Martin Truex Jr. In the row behind him and representing the choices he had were Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson.

Both Jones and Truex spun their tires, which allowed Larson and Kenseth to pounce.

“The 20 (Kenseth) got to the bottom of me and the 42 (Larson) was to the right of me,” Jones said. “I saw them both getting runs and kind of had to pick one or the other and picked wrong.”

Larson charged by Truex, bouncing off the No. 78 in the process as Jones failed to keep Kenseth behind him. The two made contact, which would result in Kenseth cutting a tire and finishing 24th. But for a brief moment all four cars were four-wide.

“I was pointed at the infield for half of (Turns ) 1 and 2,” Jones said. “For me it was an easy choice. It really doesn’t matter if we crashed. The only thing that was going to benefit us was a win, so we were in the middle and I just kept going and hoped that I would get enough air to keep moving along. So I think everybody was kind of on the same page, and it just worked out.”

By the time the field reached Turn 2, Jones was still in one piece but in fifth.

But in Turn 3, Trevor Bayne got loose driving through oil dry and washed up the track. This slowed Ryan Newman, which allowed Jones to get by both of them coming to the white flag.

“Just didn’t work out,” Jones said. “Wish it would have worked out a little bit better. It was looking like a Furniture Row one‑two (finish), kind of either way it was going to play out, so just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.”

Jones led five laps over the course of the race. It was his fifth race to lead laps this season.

The finish ties Jones’ best so far in 26 Cup starts. He placed third at Pocono in June. It was his third top 10 in as many weeks.

A red flag prior to the overtime finish gave the 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion more than enough time to think about the significance of winning his first Cup race at his home track.

“It gives you a lot of time to at least play through different scenarios on the restart and how you want it to work out,” Jones said. “It’s very rare it actually works out the way you picture in your head, but yeah, you definitely ponder what that would be like. … I knew we had a shot right on the restart. We were just as quick I felt like right off the bat, and it would have been nice to be able to seal the deal for sure.”

With three races left in the regular season, Jones is 16th in the points standings. The Cup Series now heads to Bristol Motor Speedway, where Jones finished 17th in April.

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Bump & Run: Is moving William Byron to Cup next year the right move?

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What do you think of William Byron’s move to Cup for 2018?

Dale Jarrett: I used to think that drivers needed more experience, a few years running in the Xfinity Series before they got into Cup because you kind of needed time to prove yourself there. A number of these young drivers, and William Byron being one of these, got an opportunity in a really good car right from the very beginning of his Xfinity career. He’s proven that he can race and win against the best out there, so why not? I would generally say that you need to stay there until you learn to win, and he already knows how to win against these guys. Go on and move. I’m all for it. Not that many are on that quick of pace to get there, but he’s certainly done it.

Kyle Petty: I think William Byron’s move to the Cup series is spot on! He’s won in every division he’s raced in, and not only won but contended each week. Why stay in a series if your ultimate goal is to race and win in Cup? My dad always said you learn habits racing in other divisions that don’t translate into the Cup series. His progress may take time, but ultimately the move now will pay off in wins and championships I believe.

Nate Ryan: Despite the comparisons to Joey Logano’s rookie season washout, Hendrick Motorsports is doing the right thing. If you think Byron is destined to win in Cup – and his performance in the Truck and Xfinity series the past two seasons certainly supports that belief – there is no point to delaying his promotion.

For every instance such as Logano’s (which really doesn’t apply because he unfairly was thrust into the untenable situation of replacing a champion with a high-profile sponsor and veteran team), there are several more that cast doubt on the importance of extra seasoning in the Xfinity Series.

Did staying an extra year in Xfinity after winning the championship as a rookie do much for Chase Elliott? Has Erik Jones suffered from only one full-time season? Did Xfinity experience mean anything to Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson or Kasey Kahne?

With two teammates in his age range and another who is a willing mentor (and a seven-time series champion), Byron will be nurtured at the correct pace for realizing his abundant talent.

Dustin Long: Byron’s overall experience can make one nervous, but he’s excelled in his limited time driving Trucks and in the Xfinity Series. He’s good enough that he made it worthwhile for Hendrick Motorsports to take Kasey Kahne out of the No. 5 car. It also doesn’t hurt that his salary likely will be a fraction what it is for a veteran driver such as Kahne. It’s understandable why Hendrick is making the move.

Considering how dominant Toyota has been lately, which would you take this weekend at Michigan – The field or Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott (who have two wins and three runner-up finishes in the last three Michigan races)?

Dale Jarrett: The field. I think things have changed. Both of those young guys have been outstanding there and proven to be the ones to beat. I just believe that the Toyotas have come too far. This might not be the type of track to where their engine combination shows up at its very best. I think it’s better whenever the RPMs get down a little bit lower, but I still think that they’ve just made such a huge gain with everything they’ve done. I think it’s the rest of the field, the Chevrolets and the Fords, trying to catch the Toyotas this weekend.

Kyle Petty: The field. I know Kyle can win. Chase has been close, and we all believe he can win. But Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have shown in the last four weeks at different tracks that they can dominate! If they’re in the field, I’ll take them every time! 

Nate Ryan: The field. Even though Toyota has only one win in the past 11 races at Michigan, it feels as if Larson and Elliott are underdogs to the speed of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing. Unless it comes down to fuel mileage or off-sequence strategies, it’s tough to envision a Chevy winning at Michigan.

Dustin Long: I’ll take Larson and Elliott. Yes, Toyotas have dominated lately but Michigan hasn’t been a track that has been great to them. Plus, Toyota’s run hasn’t to end sometime. Doesn’t it?

Where do you place the Kyle Busch-Brad Keselowski rivalry in the sport’s history?

Dale Jarrett: It’s turned into a nice little rivalry. It’s got a ways to go to get back to things that happened in the older days and a few others in the modern times. It’s certainly in there in the top 10. It’s entertaining to watch and listen to. I think if it happened on a little more regular basis, and that’s hard to come. Rivalries generally come when the two drivers are really competing for wins on a regular basis. The other day they weren’t even competing for the win at that time. I think it’s only going to continue to get better for us. At this point in time, it will be just inside the top 10 with the possibility with the two of them continuing that we could see this be full fledge and a lot of fun to cover.

Kyle Petty: The BK/KB rivalry in still in its early stages. I’ll have to wait and see how it grows. Right now for me it’s just a footnote on a few seasons.

Nate Ryan: It’s among the more fascinating in recent memory because of their endless parallels (ages, fatherhood and truck team ownership), but it remains a few notches below Petty-Pearson or Allison-Waltrip. All the elements seem to be there, though, for future conflicts (though it would help if Keselowski’s cars were faster).

Dustin Long: It’s got a ways to go to match Petty-Pearson but for this era — where competition is more balance, making it difficult for the same two drivers to race for the win week after week — this is one of the better ones. I’d say it’s probably the best rivalry since 2000.

Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty join Krista Voda from the NASCAR Hall of Fame for today’s NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET. Joey Logano is today’s guest.