Erik Jones, 18, holds off Keselowski and Earnhardt Jr. to earn first career Xfinity Series win

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There must be something about being 18 years old and racing in the spring at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott won his first Xfinity Series race at the 1.5-mile track last spring, and Erik Jones did the same thing in Friday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.

Jones started on the pole, led 79 laps in the 200-lap event, and held off Sprint Cup stars Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“It’s really surreal,” Jones said. “This is going to take a while to sink in. This has to be the biggest win of my career. … We’re in victory lane and we’re just going to take it in.”

Keselowski and Earnhardt Jr. both spoke highly of Jones’ win – and how he did it.

“It was up and down, not quite where we wanted to be at the end, we came up one spot short,” Keselowski said. “We ran wide open for the last 2-3 laps, but eventually he just had a little bit more speed.”

Added Earnhardt, “Too loose the whole race really. Mostly, we needed more wedge. Erik and Joe Gibbs did a great job. He’s a great fast kid and is going to do good in this sport. … I knew he was good. Now everybody knows he is.”

Earnhardt later tweeted to Jones, saying, “Hell of a job, dude.”

Regan Smith finished fourth, followed by Austin Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr., Denny Hamlin, Elliott, Chris Buescher and Brian Scott.

How Jones won: Jones led the final 51 laps, and looked like an experienced veteran every time he was challenged, most notably by Keselowski and Earnhardt. He got a great jump on the final restart on Lap 173 and began to pull away, eventually leading Keselowski by more than two seconds.

Who else had a good day: For series regulars, Regan Smith didn’t lead a lap but still came home with a strong fourth-place finish. He just didn’t seem to have quite as strong a car as teammate Earnhardt, who finished one spot ahead of him. … Also having a strong run was Darrell Wallace Jr., who led three laps and finished sixth.

Who had a bad day: Brendan Gaughan had a good run going until he was caught up in a wreck 33 laps from the end. Instead of a possible top-10 finish, Gaughan wound up with a disappointing 33rd-place finish.

Notables: Brad Keselowski qualified second but was forced to drop to the back of the field for an unapproved fuel pump found during inspection. However, that didn’t seem to hinder Keselowski, who climbed from 40th to 7th in 33 laps and then took the lead for the first time on Lap 47. … Bubba Wallace was the highest-finishing rookie in sixth. “We just missed it by a little bit,” Wallace said. … Brandon Gdovic made his Xfinity debut, finishing 26th.

Quote of the day: “I’ll probably look like a dork, but I’ll find out tonight.” – Erik Jones when asked after the race how he thinks he’ll look when he puts the victory cowboy hat on.

What’s next: The Xfinity Series moves to Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, April 18, for the Drive to Stop Diabetes 300.

Unofficial results of O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway:

1 Erik Jones … 200 laps
2 Brad Keselowski … 200 laps
3 Dale Earnhardt Jr. … 200 laps
4 Regan Smith … 200 laps
5 Austin Dillon … 200 laps
6 Darrell Wallace Jr. … 200 laps
7 Denny Hamlin … 200 laps
8 Chase Elliott … 200 laps
9 Chris Buescher … 200 laps
10 Brian Scott … 200 laps
11 Elliott Sadler … 200 laps
12 Ty Dillon … 200 laps
13 Brennan Poole … 200 laps
14 Sam Hornish Jr. … 200 laps
15 Ryan Reed … 200 laps
16 Dakoda Armstrong … 200 laps
17 John Wes Townley … 200 laps
18 Daniel Suarez … 199 laps
19 JJ Yeley … 199 laps
20 Ryan Sieg … 199 laps
21 Ross Chastain … 199 laps
22 Jeremy Clements … 198 laps
23 David Starr … 198 laps
24 Mike Bliss … 197 laps
25 Landon Cassill … 197 laps
26 Brandon Gdovic … 196 laps
27 Harrison Rhodes … 195 laps
28 Mario Gosselin … 195 laps
29 Eric McClure … 192 laps
30 Peyton Sellers … 190 laps
31 Joey Gase … 186 laps
32 Blake Koch … 182 laps
33 Brendan Gaughan … 167 laps
34 Cale Conley … 165 laps
35 Timmy Hill … 150 laps
36 Derrike Cope … 79 laps
37 Stanton Barrett … 11 laps
38 Jeff Green … 10 laps
39 Derek White … 7 laps
40 Mike Harmon … 2 laps

Average Speed: 132.989 mph
Time of Race: 02 hours, 15 minutes, 21 seconds
Margin of Victory: 1.624 seconds
Lead changes: 15 among 8 drivers

Laps led: Erik Jones (79), Brad Keselowski (56), Brian Scott (26), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (25), Dakoda Armstrong (7), Brendan Gaughan (3), Darrell Wallace Jr. (3), Austin Dillon (1).

Cautions: 6 for 30 laps

 

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NASCAR will have choose rule for All-Star Race at Bristol

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Following support from drivers, NASCAR will allow competitors to choose which lane they want to restart in during the July 15 All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The choose rule designates a spot on the track where a driver must select if they wish to restart on the inside lane or outside lane. The choose rule also will be in place for the NASCAR Open.

NASCAR also announced the format for the NASCAR Open and All-Star Race.

In the NASCAR Open, which is for drivers who have not qualified for the All-Star Race:

  • Stage 1 will be 35 laps
  • Stage 2 will be 35 laps
  • The final stage will be 15 laps

The winner of each stage advances to the All-Star Race. After the NASCAR Open, the Fan Vote winner will be announced. That will go to the driver not yet qualified for the All-Star Race after competing in the NASCAR Open.

In the All-Star Race, the format will be:

  • Stage 1 will be 55 laps
  • Stage 2 will be 35 laps
  • Stage 3 will be 35 laps
  • The final stage will be 15 laps

Both green flag and yellow flag laps will count in the first three stages. Only green flag laps will count in the final stage. There will be an unlimited number of attempts at a green, white, checkered finish under green flag conditions.

NASCAR also stated that the car number will move from the door toward the rear wheel to give more exposure to the teams’ sponsors

The biggest change is the choose rule. At Bristol, the outside line is dominant on restarts. The leader chooses to restart on the outside line and the driver starting in the second row — in fourth place — often is second shortly after the restart because of the lane’s advantage. With the rule change, others would have the chance to start on the outside lane if they wanted.

“I see nothing bad that it can bring,” Joey Logano said of the chose rule concept in May. “It brings another strategy to the table, it’s definitely something to talk about. You don’t have luck becoming involved. …

“I tell you, if I see a bunch of 12-year-olds do it in the Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I’m pretty sure all of us could figure it out.”

Said Austin Dillon: “As a sport we’re always changing. We’ve done a really good job with the mile-and-a-half program and brought it back to life. I think the next thing is trying to make it better for the fans and create more drama than it already has.”

Some drivers have called for this type of rule to prevent the brake checking that takes place at the exit of pit road so a driver can be in an even-number position in the running order and restart on the outside lane.

“It takes out pit crew’s fast stops,” Dillon said. “Your pit crew could’ve gained a couple of spots there, but instead you’re giving up two spots because you’d rather start on the outside. That’s gotta stop. I think it’s gonna knock someone’s nose in at the end of pit road before too long, so that will end a guy’s race. I don’t feel like it is a hard thing to do.”

The All-Star Race was moved from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Bristol Motor Speedway because of the COVID-19 pandemic and North Carolina restrictions on mass gatherings. Bristol will be allowed to have up to 30,000 fans.

Drivers who have already clinched an All-Star Race spot: Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

 

Can anybody catch Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick?

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Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.

Or is it Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick?

They’ve won four of the last six Cup races, including the past two, and came within a late caution flag of being the last two Brickyard 400 winners at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s race (4 p.m. ET on NBC).

MORE: Indianapolis weekend schedule

MORE: Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick 1-2 in Power Rankings

“For the most part, when we have had chances to win races, we have won them,” Harvick said. “I think Sunday (at Pocono) was probably the only one that I could point to and say that we had the car to win the race and didn’t win the race. I think for the majority of the races that we have had chances to win we have capitalized on those situations.”

That Pocono race Sunday? Harvick finished second to Hamlin, who has won two of the last four races.

“I would say specifically the last 10 to 11 (races) we’ve been exceptional, really since coming back from the break that we had,” Hamlin said. “I thought we’ve been really good.

“My team is really strong. They’re doing a lot of really good work at the race shop preparing our cars to be set up, optimized right from the first run of the day.

“Where we’re really struggling is not getting stage points. I think we’d be winning the regular season if we could get some. The way the races have played out, we’ve kind of made our bed to try to win the race because we’ve had race‑winning cars. I’ll definitely take race wins over stage wins, especially knowing that a race win counts for five (playoff points).”

Harvick enters Sunday’s race at Indy as the defending winner. He led 118 of 160 laps in last year’s race, winning by more than six seconds.

In 2018, Hamlin led at Indy when a caution with six laps to go took away his advantage. Brad Keselowski passed Hamlin coming to the white flag and won.

If not Harvick or Hamlin this weekend, Keselowski could be one to watch.

“My confidence level right now is very, very high that we can be a contender for the entire season and continue to build and get stronger,” said Keselowski, who has two wins and eight top-10 finishes since the season resumed in May. “Very, very pleased to see how the team has come together. … Now we’re starting to show a lot of speed. I don’t think we’ve reached our full potential.”

Even with Keselowski’s success, Harvick and Hamlin have been stout. This is how dominant Harvick and Hamlin have been all season and since May:

Most wins this year (15 races)

Most wins since season resumed (11 races)

  • Denny Hamlin (3 wins)
  •  Kevin Harvick (3 wins)
  • Brad Keselowski (2 wins)

Most top-five finishes this year (15 races)

Most top-five finishes since season resumed (11 races)

  • Denny Hamlin (8 top 5s)
  • Kevin Harvick (7 top 5s)
  • Chase Elliott (6 top 5s)
  • Ryan Blaney (6 top 5s)

Most top 10 finishes this season (15 races)

  • Kevin Harvick (12 top 10s)
  • Denny Hamlin (10 top 10s)
  • Brad Keselowski (10 top 10s)

Most top 10 finishes since season resumed (11 races)

  • Kevin Harvick (8 top 10s)
  • Denny Hamlin (8 top 10s)
  • Brad Keselowski (8 top 10s)
  • Martin Truex Jr. (8 top 10s)

Patriots of America PAC to be primary sponsor for Go Fas Racing in nine races

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Patriots of America, a political action committee supporting President Donald Trump’s re-election bid, will be the primary sponsor of Corey LaJoie’s car this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Go Fas Racing announced Wednesday.

Patriots of America PAC will be the primary sponsor on the car for eight additional races.  

“Our mission is to get voters registered and to the polls in November,” said Jeff Whaley on behalf of Patriots of America PAC. “We are excited about our sponsorship with Go Fas Racing No. 32 and Corey LaJoie. We feel this partnership is the best way to help us communicate this message to the NASCAR community and encourage all Americans to do their part by heading to the polls.”

Team owner Archie St. Hilaire said in a statement: “I am honored to be part of the President’s re-election campaign through the Patriots of America PAC. As a Trump 2020 supporter, this team will do everything possible to secure victory on and off the track electing President Donald Trump to a second term. Let us bring this country back and Keep America Great!”

According to public documents, Patriots of America has paid Go Fas Racing $350,000 to this point for the sponsorship.

Sunday’s Cup race airs at 4 p.m. ET on NBC.

NASCAR, Coca-Cola to honor military, frontline healthcare workers

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NASCAR will honor members of the U.S. Armed Forces and frontline healthcare workers throughout the month of July as part of this year’s expanded “NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola” initiative.

Per a media release, NASCAR said the program will be “an industry-wide opportunity to recognize and thank those who have gone above and beyond to keep society safe and healthy.”

The kickoff event for the program begins with Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at the Brickyard (4 p.m. ET on NBC, IMS Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), shifting to a mid-summer window due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We take pride in honoring all who work tirelessly to keep our nation safe, whether a frontline worker in the fight against COVID-19 or part of our U.S. Armed Forces protecting us around the world,” said Jill Gregory, executive vice president and chief marketing and content officer, NASCAR. “The NASCAR industry has always been passionate about saluting our nation’s heroes both past and present, and we once again look forward to recognizing those who serve.”

Per a statement in the media release, NASCAR and Coca-Cola will create content to honor the “heroic work from our military and first responder community during the COVID-19 pandemic. … Through NASCAR digital and social channels, the industry will spotlight even more stories with a new ‘NASCAR Salutes Refreshing Moments’ feature that will also be hosted on NASCAR.com/Salutes.”

“While this crisis has impacted everyone’s daily lives, we are able to race because of the selfless acts by our military community and frontline workers,” said John Mount, vice president, sports marketing and region assets, Coca-Cola North America. “NASCAR Salutes offers an impactful opportunity to showcase our pride and appreciation for these heroes and their families.”

In addition to premier partner Coca-Cola, several other NASCAR Official Partners will also take part in the program:

  • Mack Trucks will wrap its NASCAR Mack Anthem haulers with NASCAR Salutes-themed graphics voted on by fans at com/NASCARSalutes. The paint schemes honor both military and frontline heroes and the winning designs will be unveiled July 4 and debut during the NASCAR Salutes window.
  • AMR, the “Official Emergency Medical Services Partner of NASCAR,” will feature the NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola branding on its NASCAR safety trucks and safety team helmets throughout the program.
  • Goodyear continued its tradition of replacing the iconic “Eagle” sidewall for 600 Miles of Remembrance at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This year’s recognition was the Honor and Remember organization, which works closely with the industry to honor gold star families who have lost family members while serving.
  • Mack Trucks and Blue-Emu also collaborated on a day-long effort to thank truckers and critical workers for their hard work during COVID-19. After a kickoff at Mack Trucks’ headquarters, NASCAR’s Mack Anthem haulers visited Virginia-based Sovah Health to thank the frontline workers at the hospital en route to the NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

Fans can learn more about the heroes honored throughout the NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Colaprogram by visiting NASCAR.com/Salutes.