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Erik Jones: ‘Nothing positive’ in disappointing Cup finish at Texas

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Erik Jones missed graduation ceremonies at his Michigan high school in 2014 because he was racing at Texas Motor Speedway.

But the Speedway went ahead and held a special graduation ceremony where Jones received his diploma – in cap and gown, no less – before shortly climbing into his race truck.

Erik Jones at his graduation ceremony, June 6, 2014, at Texas Motor Speedway.

In Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, Jones got an education of another kind.

And it was a valuable lesson learned, struggling to a 22nd-place finish in his second career Cup race at the newly repaved 1.5-mile track.

Jones’ teammate, Martin Truex Jr., finished eighth.

No matter what crew chief Chris Gayle tried, the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota Camry failed to respond, leaving Jones with a handful to drive for 500 miles.

That wasn’t all.

There was a pit road contact Chris Buescher that put a hole in the front end of Jones’ car early in the race, tire problems and even garbage stuck to the front end grill, leaving Jones and the No. 77 with their second-worst finish of the season.

“There’s really nothing we can take as a positive from this race that we can apply for the next time we’re here other than the need to get better,” Jones said in a media release. “We tried everything we could to make the 5-hour Energy Toyota Camry to handle better but nothing worked. It was just a very frustrating day for the entire Furniture Row Racing team.”

Actually, it was more of a frustrating weekend on the Cup side. While he won Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, Jones wrecked his primary Cup car in practice on Friday, failed to make an attempt in qualifying later that same afternoon and started 36th position.

Jones finished 20th at the end of both Stage 1 and Stage 2 in Sunday’s race and could not improve after that.

Jones, one of five drivers competing for NASCAR Cup Rookie of the Year, left Texas not only with a disappointing finish, but also dropped one spot in the standings to 14th.

“It was a frustrating race that forced Erik to have his hands full all day,” Gayle said. “It was one of those days that you hope doesn’t happen very often, or really at all, where you just don’t know what’s wrong with the car, the speed is just off and not consistent enough to race hard.

“We just struggled. It could have be a little bit of nose damage or something, but we totally missed it.”

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Daniel Hemric fastest in final practice; Kevin Harvick second

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Daniel Hemric turned the fastest lap Friday in the final Cup practice at Kansas Speedway, turning a 177.830 mph lap in his No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Kevin Harvick was second followed by Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski (who paced the first practice) and Ryan Blaney.

Hemric has yet to announce a ride for 2020 after RCR announced last month that the rookie would be replaced by Tyler Reddick next season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.

Here are the rankings speeds of the other playoff drivers: Denny Hamlin 12th; Alex Bowman 15th; Joey Logano 16th; Clint Bowyer 19th; Chase Elliott 20th; and William Byron 22nd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for speeds from the final practice at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Ryan Preece praises team for its work after hauler fire

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ryan Preece praised his team for converting teammate Chris Buescher’s backup car into Preece’s primary car Friday after the hauler carrying Preece’s cars and equipment caught fire this week en route to Kansas Speedway.

“I know some of the guys haven’t had much sleep, very proud of them,” Preece said.

The team’s hauler pulled over near New Columbia, Illinois, on Thursday after a fire in the rear axle area that spread to the hauler. A team spokesperson told NBC Sports that crew chief Eddie Pardue and a couple of team members flew there to take what could be salvaged before driving to Kansas City.

The team spokesperson said that the lockers and uniforms in the hauler were heavily damaged. Both cars had damage with the backup car suffering smoke damage.

NASCAR allowed JTG Daugherty Racing to enter the garage at 8 a.m. ET Friday — five hours before the garage was scheduled to open — and allowed members from both JTG Daugherty teams to work on the car. Preece said he was there with the team when it arrived and worked on the interior as the crew converted the car.

“We’re in it as a team,” Preece said. “I wasn’t going to show up later in the afternoon. I wanted them to know that I was right there with them. I wanted to help in every way I could.”

Preece said his car was loose in the first practice session Friday at Kansas Speedway. He was 32nd on the speed chart in that session, making it on track about 10 minutes after practice began.

Brad Keselowski fastest in first practice at Kansas; Kyle Busch makes big save

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Brad Keselowski turned the fastest lap with a minute remaining in Friday afternoon’s first Cup practice at Kansas Speedway.

The 176.499-mph lap by the No. 2 Ford of Team Penske nipped a 176.389 mph lap by the No. 10 Ford of Aric Almirola.

Daniel Suarez was third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney. Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top 10.

Here’s how other playoff drivers fared during the practice:

Kyle Larson 11th; Joey Logano 13th; Clint Bowyer 15th; William Byron 20th; Alex Bowman 21st; Kyle Busch (who had an impressive save; video below) 22nd; Chase Elliott 23rd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Gray Gaulding out Friday after suspected allergic reaction

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Stewart-Haas Racing plane made an unscheduled stop in St. Louis on Friday after Gray Gaulding had a suspected allergic reaction.

SS Green Light Racing confirmed Gaulding had an issue en route to Kansas City. A Stewart-Haas Racing spokesperson confirmed that its plane made the unscheduled stop, and that emergency personnel came on board after the plane landed. Gaulding remained in St. Louis while the plane continued to Kansas City.

SS Green Light Racing stated that after arriving at the track, Gaulding went to the infield care center and was not cleared to drive Friday. Gaulding will be re-evaluated Saturday. J.J. Yeley drove the car for Gaulding in practice Friday.