Erik Jones to drive No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing next season

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Erik Jones will join Joe Gibbs Racing next season.

Jones takes over the No. 20 ride Matt Kenseth has had since joining JGR in 2013. Kenseth has scored 14 of his 38 career wins with the team. Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Kenseth will not return to the organization.

“Matt (Kenseth) has been a tremendous asset to our organization over the past five seasons both on and off the track,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, in a statement. “He’s been a great teammate and a great ambassador for our sponsors. We have a great deal of respect for him and we are working hard to get the 20 team into the playoffs to make a run for the championship. We have a great deal of confidence in his abilities to do just that. 

“At the same time it’s exciting to have Erik back to run fulltime with us starting next season. When a number of circumstances made it clear over the past few weeks that a second year for the 77 car was probably not viable at this time for Erik, we all agreed that we wanted to keep him in the Toyota racing family and felt it was the right time to make this transition. He is an exciting driver that has already proven to have the ability to compete at the highest level of our sport. He is also shown to be a great representative to our partners and we believe he is at the beginning of a long and successful career.”

Jones is 14th in the points (but outside a playoff spot) with one top-five and five top-10 finishes for Furniture Row Racing.

The move is not a surprise. Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser said last year that Jones had a one-year contract with the team, leading to speculation that the Toyota-backed driver would then head to JGR.

“This is a really exciting time in my career for me to make the move back to Joe Gibbs Racing full time in the Cup Series and continue to have the success I’ve had with them over the last few years,” Jones said in a statement. “I will always be grateful for the opportunity given to me by Barney Visser and everyone at Furniture Row Racing this year for my first full year in the Cup Series.

“I’ve learned a lot this year and I’ve had a great group of guys around me each week to lean on as I figured out my rookie season and how to make my way in the Cup Series. The 77 team, from myself, crew chief Chris Gayle and every crew member, we’ve come a long way since February and we still have a lot to accomplish this season. We’ve hit our stride the last few weeks with strong finishes and while it’s nice to have my plans for 2018 announced, I’m focused on continuing to improve and get this team a win before the season ends.”

As for the future of the No. 77 team at Furniture Row Racing?

“Regarding today’s announcement that Erik Jones will drive in the NASCAR Cup Series for Joe Gibbs Racing starting in 2018, Furniture Row Racing’s commitment to Jones and the No. 77 team remains the same for the remainder of the season,” Visser said in a statement.“Our goal is for Jones to qualify for the playoffs, make a run for the championship and capture Rookie of the Year honors.

“We are working on our team plans for 2018 but don’t have anything concrete to report at this time except that Martin Truex Jr. will continue to drive the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.”

Jones, who turned 21 on May 30, rocketed through NASCAR’s ranks after being discovered by Kyle Busch in 2012 after Jones beat Busch to win the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

He became the youngest winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2013 at 17 years, five months and eight days when he won at Phoenix. Cole Custer broke that mark in 2014.

Jones won the Truck title in 2015, becoming the youngest series champ at 19 years, five months, 21 days and made his first Cup appearance that season in relief of Denny Hamlin at Bristol. He later drove a Cup race for an injured Kyle Busch and two races for Kenseth after Kenseth had been suspended for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville.

Jones won four Xfintiy races last year as a rookie and ran for the championship in the season finale in Miami but finished fourth in the points.

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Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick reigns going into All-Star Race

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Kevin Harvick‘s dominance of his Cup competitors continues in this week’s NBC Sports power rankings, as the Stewart-Haas Racing driver is the unanimous No. 1 driver for the second week in a row.

That comes after Harvick placed fourth at Kentucky Speedway in a race won by rookie Cole Custer.

Fourteen drivers earned votes this week following a weekend of four NASCAR races, including two Xfinity Series events.

Here is this week’s top 10:

 1. Kevin Harvick (30 points): Fourth-place finish is his fourth consecutive top-five finish. Last week: First.

 2. Aric Almirola (22 points): While Almirola finished eighth, he led a career-best 128 laps, won Stage 1 and earned his sixth consecutive top-10 finish. Last Week: Second.

(Tie) 3. Cole Custer (19 points): Custer became the first rookie of the year candidate to win a Cup race since 2016 and the first 2020 rookie to score consecutive top fives with his win. Last week: Ninth.

(Tie) 3. Matt DiBenedetto (19 points): Earned his second top five of the year and his second top 10 in three races. DiBenedetto has earned points in the last eight stages. Last week: Unranked.

(Tie) 5. Brad Keselowski (16 points): His ninth-place finish was his 10th top 10 in the last 12 races, but he didn’t earn any applause from Jimmie Johnson after contact spun Johnson. Last week: Third.

(Tie) 5. Martin Truex Jr. (16 points): Runner-up finish marked his fifth top 10 in the last eight races. Last week: Unranked.

 7. Austin Cindric (12 points): The Xfinity driver dominated his series’ doubleheader in Kentucky and came away with his first oval track wins in NASCAR. Last Week: Unranked.

 8. Kurt Busch (8 points): Placed fifth for his first top five since the second Charlotte race in May. Last Week: Unranked.

 9. Denny Hamlin (7 points): Forgettable day at Kentucky. On to the All-Star race at Bristol. Last week: Fourth.

 10. Tyler Reddick (6 points): Placed 10th to earn his first consecutive top 10 of his Cup career. Last Week: Unranked

Others receiving votes: Chase Briscoe (3 points), Ryan Blaney (3 points), Christopher Bell (3 points), Sheldon Creed (1 point)

NASCAR video explains Choose Rule for All-Star Race at Bristol

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NASCAR detailed in its drivers meeting video how the Choose Rule will be used for restarts in Wednesday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

The non-points race marks the first time Choose Rule — which allows drivers to determine what lane they restart — will be used in a NASCAR Cup event. Drivers have been vocal about trying the rule since May.

The Choose Rule will be used for restarts only. It will not be used for the start of the All-Star Race, which is being held for the first time at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The video states that drivers must be single file under caution when crossing the start/finish line at the time to choose their restart lane. The video states that a V shaped painted mark on the track will show where drivers must decide what lane they wish to restart.

To restart in the inside lane, drivers must have their right side tires on or below the painted line at the V shaped mark.

To restart in the outside lane, drivers must have their left side tires on or above the painted line at the V shaped mark on the track.

If in NASCAR’s discretion, a driver has not chosen a lane at the V shaped mark on the track, changes lanes, tires touch the painted box after the V shaped mark or impedes the process, that driver will have to restart at the tail end of the field in the longest line of cars.

Xfinity team owner fined for violating COVID-19 protocol at Kentucky

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NASCAR announced on Tuesday the first fine for a violation of its COVID-19 protocols.

Anthony Clements, owner of Jeremy Clements Racing, was fined $10,000 for violating section 12.8.1.b of the Member Conduct Guidelines and section 7.7.2.j Team Event Roster Guidelines in the rulebook.

Among the potential violations in Section 12.8.1.b is that a member can be fined $5,000-$25,000 for: “Failure to comply with NASCAR’s COVID-19 Event Protocol Guidelines and/or instructions from NASCAR including screenings, social distancing, compartmentalization, and use of required personal protective equipment, etc.”

Last week, NASCAR issued a memo to teams requesting them to address “complacency” regarding its COVID-19 mask policy.

Section 7.7.2.j says “If a team is not in compliance with the Team Event Roster Rules and guidelines, that team will be subject to a Penalty as outlined in Section 12 Violations and Disciplinary Action.”

NASCAR also issued a $5,000 fine to crew chief Dave Rogers for one unsecured lug nut on Riley Herbst‘s No. 18 Toyota.

NASCAR did not issue any penalties for Friday’s post-race fight between Noah Gragson and Harrison Burton.

Last Saturday, NASCAR announced L1 level penalties for three Truck Series teams that failed pre-race inspection.

Wednesday’s Bristol All-Star Race: Start time, lineup and more

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History will be made Wednesday night when NASCAR holds the All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time.

The night will be filled with many other firsts. Cars will have unique paint schemes centered around their sponsors. Drivers who automatically qualified for the All-Star race will have underglow lights on their cars. This will be the first national NASCAR event with the choose rule.

Here’s all you need to know ahead of Wednesday night’s event.

(All times are Eastern)

START: All-Star Open: Command to start engines is at 7:02 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. All-Star Race: Command to start engines is at 8:56 p.m. Green flag is at 9:01 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at Noon (teams are assigned specific times). All-Star Open: Driver introductions at 6:43 p.m. Drivers report to cars at 6:45 p.m. Invocation at 6:54 p.m. All-Star Race: Driver introductions at 8:35 p.m. Invocation at 8:47 p.m. National anthem at 8:49 p.m.

DISTANCES: All-Star Open: 85 laps around the half-mile track. All-Star Race: 140 laps.

SEGMENTS: All-Star Open: 35 laps / 35 laps / 15 laps. All-Star Race: 55 laps / 35 laps / 35 laps / 15 laps (only green-flag laps count in final segment)

CHOOSE RULE FOR ALL-STAR RACE: Competitors can choose which lane to restart. Rule is detailed here.

ADVANCING: The winners of each stage in the Open will advance to the All-Star Race. A fourth driver will advance through a fan vote.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

FORECAST: For the All-Star Open, wunderground.com forecasts partly cloudy skies, a high of 87 degrees and chance of rain at the start. For the All-Star Race, it forecasts a high of 81 degrees and no chance of rain.

LAST ALL-STAR RACE: Kyle Larson beat Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch to claim his All-Star Race win.

ALL-STAR OPEN STARTING LINEUP: Click here for NASCAR Open starting lineup

ALL-STAR RACE STARTING LINEUP: Click here for All-Star Lineup

Catch up on NBC Sports’ coverage:

Bump and Run: All-Star Race picks, surprising wins, and more

Cash App to sponsor Bubba Wallace in multi-year deal

Xfinity team owner fined for violating COVID-19 protocol at Kentucky

Cup playoff grid after Kentucky Speedway

Cup rookies shine going into All-Star Race

NASCAR in ‘good place’ with Harrison Burton, Noah Gragson after fight