Erik Jones’ goal driving Kenseth’s car at Texas is to finish

Leave a comment

FORT WORTH, Texas – Erik Jones will start sixth in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, but he just wants to get to the end of it.

The Camping World Truck Series driver turned Sprint Cup substitute is hoping to complete all 334 laps of the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

“If we can say that (we finished) and have run in the top 15 I think that’s a really good day for us,” Jones said.

Jones, 19, was tapped to drive the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing after Matt Kenseth was suspended two races for intentionally crashing Joey Logano last weekend at Martinsville Speedway. It will be his third time in the seat of a Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup car.

In his first two substitute efforts, Jones did not complete every lap. He replaced Denny Hamlin 22 laps into the spring Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway after a rain delay and finished 26th, six laps off the lead.

Then at Kansas, while replacing an injured Kyle Busch, Jones finished 40th as the last car running after crashing on Lap 197.

“In Kansas, we had really good speed and unfortunately didn’t put ourselves in even a position to have a shot by not making it to the end, which was my fault,” Jones said. “I want to be able to make it to the end of the race and say we ran all 334 laps on Sunday.”

His attempt to accomplish that feat will be directed by crew chief Jason Ratcliff, someone he barely knows. Their first time to work together came in the Cup series’ first practice session Friday.

“Going into this weekend I didn’t know Jason that well, I’d only met him once,” Jones said. “I really didn’t know anybody that worked on the 20 so I just had to kind of get to know people.”

A big part of that process was “getting the chemistry” down between Ratcliff and Jones through terminology during during the practice session.

“I think we did a nice job of kind of accelerating that process in practice and getting a little closer on that,” Jones said.

The session ended with Jones eighth fastest. Hours later, Jones qualified sixth for his second Cup start.

“We made the final round at Kansas as well, so it’s cool to make the final round in both our starts,” Jones said. “We’ll see where it goes from here, obviously we’ve got a long ways to go yet for Sunday – 500 miles.

Jones said after Truck qualifying that he hadn’t spoken with Kenseth on Friday, but would probably send him a text seeking out his thoughts on the track and Ratcliff.

Kenseth has won at Texas twice in his Sprint Cup career. Earning his first Cup win at Texas or Phoenix International Raceway isn’t a thought Jones has dismissed.

“The 20 team has been really, really fast here the last month as well as the rest of Joe Gibbs Racing,” Jones said. “I think we have a good shot here and I’m excited to get to Phoenix for sure. That’s probably one of my favorite tracks we get to go to. It’s not out of the question, but I think it’s definitely a little far-fetched in some ways.”

Maybe even more far-fetched is the prospect of Jones sweeping the weekend. But the Michigan native has  chance after winning Friday’s Truck race. Should he complete every scheduled lap of the tripleheader, Jones would run 681 laps over 1,021 miles.

When it comes to such a feat, Jones can lean on Truck team owner Kyle Busch for advice on how to mange a feat they weren’t sure he would be eligible for until Thursday night.

“He’ll be done after Sunday night,” Busch said. “I remember some of my first  triples, they were pretty hard to handle. He’s run enough laps this year, hopefully he’s ready for it.”

Las Vegas race results, driver points

Las Vegas race results
Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kurt Busch scored his first career Cup victory at his hometown track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and is the first driver to advance to third round of the playoffs.

Busch led the final 26 laps, taking advantage when a caution came out in the middle of a green-flag pit cycle. Busch was the only playoff driver who had yet to pit before the caution.

Matt DiBenedetto finished second and was followed by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman.

Click here for Cup race results

DRIVER POINTS

Alex Bowman holds the final transfer spot to the next round. Kyle Busch trails Bowman by nine points. Clint Bowyer trails Bowman by 20 points. Aric Almirola trails Bowman by 27 points. Austin Dillon trails Bowman by 32 points.

Click here for driver points

Kurt Busch wins Las Vegas Cup race in overtime

Kurt Busch
Getty Images
Leave a comment

After entering the Round of 12 last in the playoff standings, Kurt Busch won Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in an overtime finish, claiming his first win of the season and advancing him into the Round of 8.

Busch held off Matt DiBenedetto and Denny Hamlin to also claim his first Cup win at his home track.

Busch led 29 of the last 34 laps. His time at the front of the pack was a result of leading when a caution came out during green flag pit stops late in the final stage. DiBenedetto was on pit road when the caution came out with 33 laps to go and restarted first with Busch second.

“This is what kids dream of,” an emotional Busch told NBCSN  in Victory Lane. “When they grow up racing you dream of winning at your home town track and for two decades it’s kicked my butt. And tonight with this Monster Energy Chevy, I’m in awe. I knew the race would come to us, we needed to get to night fall. One of those quirky (crew chief) Matt McCall pit sequences finally unfolded. We got lucky.

“You got to be lucky. And you have to be lucky in any race. But we did it tonight with teamwork and pulling through and not giving up. But this is Vegas, I miss the fans. I miss them so much. … My home town is special. This Vegas place is special.”

The top five was completed by Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman.

The two-lap dash was caused by an incident involving William Byron, Christopher Bell and Corey LaJoie with seven laps to go. Bell cut a tire from contact with the wall and as he slowed Byron ran into the back of his car before going into a spin.

Hamlin was among a large group of drivers who pit for fresh tires following a caution with 18 laps to go, but was unable to complete his charge through the field.

“(Hamlin) had a ton of speed, I was wide open,” Busch said. “You have to manipulate the draft. I pulled out some old drag racing skills on the restarts. I knew that that was our strong suit. I knew that was the Ford’s (DiBenedetto) weak suit. We just put ourselves in position and we held off.”

 

STAGE 1 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Joey Logano finished 14th after he had to pit on Lap 91 to fix a left rear tire rub, a result of contact with Kyle Busch following Denny Hamlin’s three-wide pass for the lead on Lap 88Tyler Reddick finished 38th after he tagged the wall late in Stage 2 and went to the garage ending his day … After finishing sixth in the first two stages, Austin Dillon finished 32nd after an overheating problem forced him to pit road for repairs with 50 laps to go.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 2 p.m. ET Oct. 4 on NBC

Check back for more

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

Leave a comment

The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
Getty Images
Leave a comment

A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”