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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Brandon Jones

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Brandon Jones was a fan of team owner Richard Childress long before he had the chance to drive for him.

“I think it was my first race at Las Vegas,” Jones told NBC Sports. “He was in a hurry, Richard’s always in a hurry, but I was like, ‘Hey!’ I didn’t even know what to say to him. And now, thank gosh last year I got an opportunity to drive with him a little bit, and now we’re best friends. You can come in his office and kick back and have a normal conversation, so it’s great.”

Jones, now 19, was given a five-race opportunity in 2015. After earning two top-five finishes, Jones received a full-time ride for 2016 driving the No. 33 Chevrolet.

“It was a grin on my face, that’s for sure,” Jones said about getting the phone call.

It was also a huge relief because Jones had contemplated many different career paths, such as the military or welding. Cars were always a love of his though and Jones isn’t one to be idle for too long or work behind a desk.

The Rookie of the Year candidate qualified for the inaugural Xfinity Series Chase on the strength of 11 top-10 finishes.

Entering Saturday’s race at Dover International Speedway, Jones has work to do if he wants to advance in the Chase. A 26th-place finish at Kentucky Speedway has put him 11th on the Chase grid. But there’s no other team he would rather be with in that position.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: The Gales (Bubba and Cale) played a huge role in getting your racing career started, how did you connect with them?

Jones: I didn’t come from a family that was in NASCAR or any form of racing, but we’ve always been car people. We met Cale through Kevin Harvick Inc. when he was driving the Rheem car, and knew some people at Rheem through their contact and just got to know Cale really well. One day we got invited to go down to Mobile, Alabama, to drive a Legends car with him and his dad to see how we liked it and to hang out down there in his hometown. Ended up falling in love with it as soon as I got in that thing.

His dad was also helping another kid in Georgia where we were living at the time, Spencer Davis, so we went out there after school every day and drove his truck. We’d take turns and then it led to my family getting a truck with him. Then we did the same thing but with our own vehicles, and we had just one big race at the end of the year and started the next year off with the full-time season in that super truck division. Lanier (Raceplex) and Gresham (Motorsports Park) were the two tracks that we ran, so that’s kind of how I got my start. I did that for a year before we moved on to a Late Model division; then started working in the K&N Series some, followed by ARCA.

NBC Sports: You started out at an older age than what is considered the norm, so did you feel like you had to work harder to earn your way?

Jones: I was 13 when I started, and six or seven is the go-kart age usually. I think we did it right. We didn’t just jump right into a race; we started just by running laps. We’d have headsets on and two-seaters and all kinds of stuff. I think that helped me kind of catch up with everything. You could tell when Spencer (Davis) was out there with me because he had thousands of go-kart races (under his belt) before we had raced the trucks, which is so different but still, he had that racing background and he had that mindset of how to win a race. So you could tell the confidence level for sure, but I feel like now I’m starting to level off with everybody and get really comfortable with these cars.

NBC Sports: There’s an actor named Brandon Jones who is also on Twitter with a very similar handle to yours, have you ever gotten tagged in his tweets?

Jones: Oh yeah, for sure. I probably got some of their followers, too. You can tell, ‘That one was probably not meant to follow me.’ (Musician) Colt Ford and people like that. It’s pretty cool.

NBC Sports: Being an outdoors person, what do you enjoy doing away from racing?

Jones: Bow hunting, fishing, things like that. All that stuff is so time-consuming, it’s like you don’t just go out there and pull your bow and be able to take a kill with an animal. Every day you’re trying to perfect yourself, so it’s pretty time-consuming. I try to go to the shop at least once or twice a week and then with the days I’m not racing I fill with bow shooting; I like tactical shooting, three-gun type stuff, so every day I’m slammed full.

NBC Sports: How did you get interested in wood building?

Jones: It was one of those YouTube things. You’re watching a video and then it’s like, ‘Oh, what is this?’ We’ve been doing all kinds of cool projects. My girlfriend, she loves to do pallet board type stuff, so we’ve been getting into that some. I built a really big outdoor farm table before, woodsheds, so we’ve done some pretty big stuff in the past, but I’ve tried to keep it small now.

NBC Sports: Have you ever gotten hurt doing anything outdoorsy or while building something?

Jones: I’ve never gotten hurt but frustrated, for sure. I have probably doubled my pricing in wood because I would cut one thing and I’ll be like, ‘This is not even matching up’ and I have to go back to Lowe’s and buy a whole new sheet or board. It was a pain in the beginning but I think it’s another thing you learn how to make mistakes and now I’ve gotten to where I know how to measure everything out.

NBC Sports: You have an interest in antique cars, correct?

Jones: Yeah, we had three cars built that we found behind barns rusted up. We kind of did a big transformation on them. I’ve got a Camaro with an RCR sp2 Xfinity motor in it from previous years; it’s a pretty cool little piece. My favorite one is my great grandfather’s truck that we had completely redone. We put a huge motor in it and painted it and everything, but it’s a got original wood and bed and everything.

NBC Sports: If you were to describe your personality would a Southern boy in jeans and boots and always outside be accurate?

Jones: Yep. Extremely outdoorsy. I just enjoy time out there and time on the ranch. I love, love being in the woods and being away from the city-type. I’ve done both. I’ve been in the city before, grew up in Atlanta, so I was dead smack in the middle of everything, and I think that’s why I probably grew so much to the country fields. It’s pretty funny, my dad laughs at me because they used to do 2,000 head of cattle when he was growing up my age so he grew up in the country life and now he’s like, ‘I gotta get away from it and be in the city.’ But I did it opposite; I’m into the cows and the farming and all that stuff, so he laughs and says a little bit of that wore off on me.

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Results, point standings after Truck race at Las Vegas

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second win of 2020.

He beat Sheldon Creed for the victory.

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly finished 18th and Travis Pastrana was 21st.

Click here for the race results.

Point Standings

With his win, Austin Hill is the first driver to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Todd Gilliland is last in the playoff standings with 2,050 points. He is 13 points behind Ben Rhodes.

Click here for the standings.

Austin Hill wins Las Vegas Truck race

Austin Hill
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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading the final 39 laps to score the victory.

Hill took the lead on a restart and held off charges from Sheldon Creed over the final 20 laps.

Creed’s progress was slowed with 11 laps to go when he got loose and scraped the wall in Turn 1. He was never able to get close enough to Hill to make a challenge.

Creed dominated the early portion of the race, leading 89 laps before he struggled to get going on the final restart and briefly fell to seventh.

The win is the second of the year for Hill. He’s the first playoff driver to win in the postseason and it come after he finished 25th at Bristol.

“We didn’t have the best truck tonight by no means,” Hill told FS1. “Pit crew did a hell of job on that last pit stop getting me into the position I needed to. I just had to go out there and get it. … Sheldon was definitely way faster than me. … I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was our front. I knew he was better than we were.”

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

More: Race results and point standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith all matched their best results of the season … While he was the first driver to finish one lap down, IndyCar driver Conor Daly placed 18th in his first career Truck Series start … Travis Pastrana placed 21st in his second start of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Rachael Lessard finished 20th after he had to pit early in the race following contact with the wall … Ben Rhodes finished 23rd after he spun from contact with Stewart Friesen and hit the inside wall on Lap 84 … Jordan Anderson’s engine expired on the ensuing restart. He finished 32nd.

NOTABLE: Natalie Decker, who was not medically cleared to compete Friday night, was treated and released from the infield care center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m. ET Oct. 3 on FS1

 

Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

Natalie Decker
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NASCAR announced right before Friday night’s Truck Series race that Natalie Decker hadn’t been medically cleared to compete.

No details were provided about the issue that prevented Decker from being cleared. During the final stage of the race, NASCAR announced she had been treated and released from the infield medical center.

The Niece Motorsports driver would have started 23rd. Due to her No. 44 truck having cleared inspection and having been placed on the starting grid she was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker has made 11 starts this year. She missed the June 28 race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)