Erik Jones taking first NASCAR Sprint Cup start in stride


With both his words and his performance, Erik Jones has been “begging for a chance” to race in the Sprint Cup Series.

Now he’s getting it. Officially anyway. After acting as an emergency substitute for Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway three weeks ago, Jones will make his first Sprint Cup start this weekend in the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Driving the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Jones is the third replacement driver this year for Kyle Busch, who is recovering from a broken right leg and fractured left foot suffered in the Xfinity Series season opener Feb. 21 at Daytona.

“There’s been some talk of it all along of, ‘Am I going to get a shot? Am I going to be in it?” Jones told media Friday at Talladega Superspeedway. “To have it kind of all settle out and come together that I’ll be in it at Kansas is pretty cool.”

But it has been revealed that Busch tested a Late Model car in his recovery efforts last week and Jones is only scheduled for the Kansas race so far. Now there’s another question Jones can pester JGR about: is Kansas his only shot in the Cup series this year?

Jones told the Des Moines Register “it’ll be close” whether Busch will be ready to return by the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24.

“The plan is I’ll be on standby, at least (at Charlotte),” said Jones during a Goodyear tire test at Iowa Speedway. “I’m sure he’ll be raring to come back.”

If so, it doesn’t mean Jones will have a lack of racing ahead of him.

Since the beginning of the season at Daytona, the 18-year-old JGR driver has officially competed in 12 races between the Camping World Truck Series, where he’s earning points toward the driver’s championship, and the Xfinity Series, where he’s split time in JGR’s No. 20 and No. 54, the latter substituting for Busch.

“At this point in the season, it’s hard to remember where we’re running for a Truck championship,” said Jones, who is winless but third in the points, trailing leader Matt Crafton by six. “I’m up to I think 46 races now this year on my schedule – by far the busiest year that I’ve ever run. It’s never easy to balance that many races in between, but with having such great race cars it’s actually worked out pretty well. I think as a driver, it’s helped me being in the race car every weekend.”

The CWTS has only ran three races so far in 2015 and none since Martinsville Speedway on March 28. The series returns Friday night at Kansas Speedway for the Toyota Tundra 250.

Jones has a history of performing well in his first starts in NASCAR’s national series and quickly building off them.

His first race in the CWTS, in 2013 at Martinsville, saw the Michigan native start 19th for Kyle Busch Motorsports and finish ninth. Jones finished in the top 10 in all five of his races that year, winning the last at Phoenix International Raceway.

Jones’ Xfinity debut was in July 2014 at Chicagoland Speedway, a 1.5-mile track just like Kansas, where he started fourth and finished seventh. He found victory lane eight races later at Texas.

His goal for Saturday that’s believable under the circumstances is a top-15 performance.

“It’s a big step,” Jones said. “It’s not going to be an easy step for anybody, but I really believe we can go run top-15.”

If that pans out, but Jones doesn’t make another Cup start in 2015, the significance of the race isn’t lost on the driver who first turned heads by beating Busch in the 2012 Snowball Derby at 16 and has quickly put himself onthe sport’s biggest stage.

“If you would have asked me two years ago if I would be making a Cup start when I was 18 – no, I really don’t think I would have,” Jones said. “It’s an awesome opportunity that I never would have dreamed of to get to do at such a young age and definitely going to take it in stride and see what we can do.”

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

Leave a comment

Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)


Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

Leave a comment

Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

Leave a comment

Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings



Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

Leave a comment

After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”