Who is hot and not entering Cup finale at Miami

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Here’s a look from Racing Insights on who is hot and who is not heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Miami (3 p.m. ET on NBC):

Kevin Harvick

Round of 8 – Hot, But Penalized at Texas

• Finished fifth at ISM Raceway (20th in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2, 73 laps led); pitted from the lead on Lap 73 due to flat right front tire (2 laps left in Stage 1); not eligible for wave around after Stage 1 caution for pitting while pit road was closed; caught one lap down on Lap 228 after caution came out during green flag pit stops; spun David Ragan on Lap 239 while battling for eighth
• Won at Texas (1st in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 177 laps led); team assessed L1 penalty after spoiler was found at R&D Center to not be proper; docked 40 driver and owner points; Harvick lost ability to lock into Championship 4 with win; crew chief Rodney Childers and car chief Robert Smith suspended for final 2 races of season; Childers fined $75,000
• Finished 10th at Martinsville (9th in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2)

Championship 4 – Great

• Advances to Championship 4 for fourth time in career (missed 2016)
• Won championship in 2014
• 2014: won race and championship
• 2015: finished second in race and second in championship standings
• 2017: finished fourth in race and third in championship standings

2018 Season – Great

• Won eight of last 34 races
• Eight wins in a season is a career best
• Finished in Top 10 in 14 of last 17 races
• Finished in Top 5 in 13 of last 22 races

Miami – Red Hot

• Finished fourth or better in four straight races at Miami (including win in 2014)
• Finished in Top 10 in 10 straight races at Miami
• Finished in Top 5 in nine of 17 career starts at Miami
• Finished in Top 10 in 15 of 17 career starts at Miami
• Since joining SHR in 2014, avg. running position at Miami has been fourth or better in all four races
• Started 9th, fourth in Stage 1, third in Stage 2, finished fourth in this race one year ago; had a hole in the fender from debris while running fourth on Lap 189; pitted from fourth to patch hole on Lap 199

1.5-Mile Tracks – Red Hot

• Won five of last 12 races on 1.5-mile tracks
• Finished top 10 in 16 of last 19 races on 1.5-mile tracks
• Harvick, Kyle Busch and Truex Jr. combined to win 16 of last 20 races on 1.5-mile tracks

 

KYLE BUSCH

Round of 8 – Hit or Miss, With A Win

• Won at ISM Raceway (seventh in Stage 1, first in Stage 2, 117 laps led)
• Finished 17th at Texas (seventh in Stage 1, 25th in Stage 2); penalized for speeding in pits on Lap 32 while running fifth; pitted for a second time under green on Lap 140 due to vibration and was trapped two laps down
• Finished fourth at Martinsville (third in Stage 1, third in Stage 2, 100 laps led)

Championship 4 – Great

• Advances to Championship 4 for fourth straight season and fourth time in career
• Won championship in 2015
• 2015: won race and championship
• 2016: finished sixth in race and third in championship standings
• 2017: finished second in race and second in championship standings

2018 Season – Great

• Won eight of last 29 races
• Last seven races: four top 10s and three finishes of 17th or worse
• Finished in Top 5 in 14 of last 23 races
• Finished in the Top 10 in 27 of 35 races in 2018
• Finished in the Top 5 in 21 of 35 races this season

Miami – Very Good

• Finished sixth or better in three straight Miami races (including win in 2015)
• Finished top 10 in five of last six races at Miami (39th in in 2014)
• Started third, (third in Stage 1, fourth in Stage 2, 43 laps led), finished second in this race one year ago; missed pit road during green flag pit stops on Lap 123 while running second

1.5-Mile Tracks – Red Hot
• Won three of last eight races on 1.5-mile tracks
• Finished in Top 10 in nine of 10 1.5-mile races in 2018
• Busch, Harvick and Truex Jr. combined to win 16 of last 20 races on 1.5-mile tracks

Wild Cards Entering Miami

 

Joey Logano

Round of 8 – Great Until Phoenix

• Finished 37th at ISM Raceway (21st in Stage 1, 37th in Stage 2); DNF – spun on Lap 96 and backed into wall after losing left-rear tire while running 16th
• Finished third at Texas (sixth in Stage 1, fifth in Stage 2, 54 laps led)
• Won at Martinsville (second in Stage 1, first in Stage 2, 309 laps led); knocked Truex out of the way exiting Turn 4 on last lap to win

Championship 4 – Not Great

• Advances to Championship 4 for third time in career (2014, 2016, 2018)
• Looking for first career championship
• 2014: finished 16th in race and fourth in championship standings
• 2016: finished fourth in race and second in championship standings

2018 Season – Great Until Phoenix

• ISM Raceway ended a streak of six straight Top 10s
• ISM Raceway was tied with his worst finish in the last 17 races of 2018
• Finished in Top 10 in 10 of last 13 races
• Finished in Top 5 in seven of last 12 races

Miami – Very Good

• Finished sixth or better in the last three races at Miami
• Finished top-10 in four of last five races at Miami (16th in 2014)
• Started 19th, ninth in Stage 1, eighth in Stage 2, finished sixth in this race one year ago

1.5-Mile Tracks – Very Good

• Finished in Top 10 in five straight 1.5-mile races
• Finished in Top 10 in 11 of last 12 1.5-mile races

 

Martin Truex Jr.

Round of 8 – Going In The Wrong Direction

• Finished 14th at ISM Raceway (12th in Stage 1, third in Stage 2, 8 laps led)
• Finished ninth at Texas (fifth in Stage 1, third in Stage 2); started in rear due to engine change; pitted to address vibration on Lap 247 while running seventh
• Finished third at Martinsville (seventh in Stage 1, fourth in Stage 2, 18 laps led); qualifying time disallowed after failing post-qualifying inspection; Logano knocked Truex out of lead exiting Turn 4 on last lap

Championship 4 – Good

• Advances to Championship 4 for third time in career and second straight season
• Won championship in 2017
• 2015: finished 12th in race and fourth in championship standings
• 2017: won race and championship

2018 Season – Hit or Miss Recently

• Finished top 10 in three of the last four races
• Last nine races: 5 top 10s and four finishes of 14th or worse
• Finished in Top 5 in 14 of last 25 races

Miami – Mixed Results Recently

• Won in 2017, but finished 12th or worse in three of last four races at Miami
• Finished in Top 10 in eight of 13 career starts at Miami
• Three of five career finishes outside Top 10 have come in last four races
• Started second, fifth in Stage 1, second in Stage 2, 78 laps led, won in this race one year ago

1.5-Mile Tracks – Red Hot

• Won eight of last 20 races on 1.5-mile tracks
• Finished top 10 in 20 of last 21 1.5-mile races
• Truex Jr., Harvick and Kyle Busch combined to win 16 of last 20 races on 1.5-mile tracks

 

Non-Playoff Drivers

Who is Hot Entering Miami:

Brad Keselowski

• Finished second at ISM Raceway (5th in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2, 32 laps led)

2018 Season – Warming Up

• Finished sixth or better in three of last four races
• Last 11 races: seven top 10s and four finishes of 12th or worse

Miami – Good

• Finished seventh or better in four of last five races at Miami (35th in 2016)
• Started 5th, second in Stage 1, fifth in Stage 2, 1 lap led, finished seventh in this race one year ago

 

Austin Dillon

• Finished eighth at ISM Raceway (10th in Stage 1, sixth in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Warming Up

• Top 10 in back to back races for the first time in 2018
• Last eight races: four Top 10s and four finishes of 11th or worse
• Finished outside Top 10 in 28 of 35 races since Daytona 500 win

Miami – Not Good

• Never finished in the top 10 in four career starts at Miami
• Started 17th, 13th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2, finished 11th in this race one year ago

 

Aric Almirola

Round of 8 – Good

• Finished fourth at ISM Raceway (11th in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2)
• Finished eighth at Texas (10th in Stage 1, 6th in Stage 2); started in the rear due to unapproved body modification
• Finished 11th at Martinsville (10th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Very Good

• Reached the Round of 8 for first time in career
• Finished in top 10 in two straight races and four of last five races

Miami – Very Bad

• Finished 16th or worse in five straight races at Miami
• Finished 40th or worse in two of last three races at Miami
• Started 20th, 19th in Stage 1, 18th in Stage 2, finished 18th in this race one year ago

 

Kyle Larson

• Finished third at ISM Raceway (6th in Stage 1, 5th in Stage 2); pit from second on Lap 289 with a possible loose wheel

2018 Season – Hot

• Finished in Top 5 the last two races and three of last four
• Last seven races: three Top 5s and four finishes of 11th or worse

Miami – Red Hot

• Finished top 5 in three straight races at Miami
• Miami is his self proclaimed “best track”
• Started seventh, first in Stage 1, first in Stage 2, 145 laps led, finished third in this race one year ago

 

Wild Cards Entering Miami:

Jamie McMurray

• Finished sixth at ISM Raceway (24th in Stage 1, 20th in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Pretty Bad, But Bright Spot in Phoenix

• ISM Raceway ended a streak of five straight finishes of 16th or worse
• Last 14 races: five top 10s and nine finishes of 16th or worse
• Finished 15th or worse in 26 of 35 races this season

Miami – Hit or Miss

• Last four races at Miami: two 5th-place finishes and two 13th-place finishes
• Started 13th, 11th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2, finished 13th in this race one year ago

 

Chase Elliott

Round of 8 – Good Until Phoenix

• Finished 23rd at ISM Raceway (first in Stage 1, seventh in Stage 2, 16 laps led); penalized for speeding entering pits on Lap 231 while leading; collected in multi-car accident on Lap 269 when Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin wreck on backstretch while battling for lead
• Finished sixth at Texas (ninth in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2)
• Finished seventh at Martinsville (11th in Stage 1, seventh in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Good

• Eliminated in Round of 8 for second straight season
• ISM Raceway ended a streak of three finishes of seventh or better
• Finished top-10 in 12 of last 16 races in 2018

Miami – Hit or Miss

• Two career starts at Miami: fifth in 2017 and 11th in 2016
• Started 18th, sixth in Stage 1, ninth in Stage 2, finished fifth in this race one year ago

 

Ryan Blaney

• Finished 34th at ISM Raceway (second in Stage 1, eighth in Stage 2, 3 laps led); DNF – had an issue with radiator on Lap 237 while running second

2018 Season – Hit or Miss

• Last five races: two top 10s and three finishes of 20th or worse
• Last 17 races: eight top 10s and nine finishes of 11th or worse

Miami – Very Bad

• Finished 17th or worse in three career starts at Miami
• Started 11th, 29th in Stage 1, 28th in Stage 2, finished 29th in this race one year ago

 

Erik Jones

• Finished 17th at ISM Raceway (eighth in Stage 1, 14th in Stage 2, 11 laps led); penalized for speeding on Lap 136

2018 Season – Hit or Miss

• Finished 17th or worse in two of last three races
• Finished top-10 in four of last six races

Miami – Not A Good Start

• Started 14th, 17th in Stage 1, 21st in Stage 2, finished 21st in this race one year ago, his only career start at the track

 

William Byron

• Finished ninth at ISM Raceway (17th in Stage 1, ninth in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Awful Until Phoenix

• ISM was his first top 10 since Watkins Glen (12 races between)
• Finished 12th or worse in 31 of 35 races this season

Miami – No Cup Experience, Very Good in Lower Series

• Finished third in only career Xfinity Series start at Miami (2017)
• Won only career Camping World Truck Series start at Miami (2016)

 

KURT BUSCH

Round of 8 – Good Until Phoenix

• Finished 32nd at ISM Raceway (fourth in Stage 1, 23rd in Stage 2, 52 laps led); DNF – involved in multi-car accident on Lap 269 after contact with Denny Hamlin on backstretch while battling for lead
• Finished 7th at Texas (second in Stage 1, eighth in Stage 2)
• Finished 6th at Martinsville (fifth in Stage 1, fifth in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Hit or Miss

• Eliminated in Round of 8 for third time in career
• Last nine races: four top 10s and five finishes of 14th or worse
• Finished top-10 in 12 of last 17 races

Miami – Not Good

• Finished outside the top 10 in four of last five races at Miami
• Only six Top 10s in 17 career starts at Miami
• Started eighth, seventh in Stage 1, 6th in Stage 2, finished 22nd in this race one year ago; spun while running 10th on Lap 228

 

BUBBA WALLACE

• Finished 10th at ISM Raceway (25th in Stage 1, 16th in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Terrible Until Phoenix

• ISM Raceway was first Top 10 since Texas in April (27 races between)
• Finished 14th or worse in 27 of last 28 races and 23rd or worse in 15 of last 17 races
• Finished 20th or worse in 26 of 35 races in 2018

Miami – No Cup Experience, Mixed Results in Lower Series

• Two career Xfinity Series starts: 10th in 2015 and 11th in 2016
• Two career Camping World Truck Series starts: Won in 2014 and 15th in 2013

 

Who is Not Hot entering Miami:

DENNY HAMLIN

• Finished 13th at ISM Raceway (third in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2); involved in multi-car accident on Lap 269 after making contact with Kurt Busch on backstretch while battling for lead

2018 Season – Bad

• Finished 13th or worse in three of last four races
• Last 14 races: six top 10s and eight finishes of 12th or worse

Miami – Very Good

• Finished in top 10 in five straight races at Miami (including win in 2013)
• Finished in top 10 in nine of 13 career starts at Miami
• Started first, eighth in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2, finished ninth in this race one year ago

 

Clint Bowyer

Round of 8 – Ice Cold

• Finished 35th at ISM Raceway (13th in Stage 1, 35th in Stage 2); DNF – scraped the wall on lap 45 while running 16th; lost left-rear tire entering Turn 3 on lap 133 and hit wall hard while running seventh
• Finished 26th at Texas (30th in Stage 1, 28th in Stage 2); contact with Hamlin on Lap 1; pitted on Lap 10 with flat right-rear tire after contact with Hamlin; penalized for crew over the wall too soon on Lap 164
• Finished 21st at Martinsville (fourth in Stage 1, 8th in Stage 2, 1 lap led); damaged right-front fender after contact with William Byron on pit road on Lap 133; spun after contact with Jimmie Johnson on Lap 457 while running 10th

2018 Season – Ice Cold

• Eliminated in Round of 8 for first time in career
• Finished outside Top 20 in four of last six races
• Last 12 races: five top 10s and seven finishes of 13th or worse (3 DNFs)

Miami – Slumping

• Finished 12th or worse in three straight races at Miami
• Started 16th, 10th in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2, finished 12th in this race one year ago

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

• Finished 33rd at ISM Raceway (15th in Stage 1, 19th in Stage 2); DNF – crashed hard in middle of turn 1 and 2 on lap 263 while running 14th

2018 Season – Bad

• Finished outside the top 10 in four straight races
• Finished 14th or worse in 26 of 35 races in 2018

Miami – Very Bad

• Finished 15th or worse in six career starts at Miami
• Finished 22nd or worse in five of six career starts at Miami (two DNFs)
• Started 6th, 15th in Stage 1, 11th in Stage 2, finished 15th in this race one year ago

 

Daniel Suarez

• Finished 36th at ISM Raceway (19th in Stage 1, 36th in Stage 2); DNF – ran into back of Matt Kenseth after Joey Logano spun on Lap 96 and the damaged vehicle clock ran out on Lap 102

2018 season – Very Bad

• Finished 28th or worse in last two races and 24th or worse in three of last four
• Finished 16th or worse in six of last eight races
• Finished outside the top-10 in 10 of last 13 races

Miami – Awful Start

• Started 10th, 14th in Stage 1, 14th in Stage 2, finished 34th in this race one year ago, his only career start at the track; DNF – hit debris on Lap 225 while running 14th and lost brakes

 

Paul Menard

• Finished 29th at ISM Raceway (32nd in Stage 1, 34th in Stage 2); started in the rear after going to backup car (crashed in final practice)

2018 Season – Very Bad

• Finished 22nd or worse in three of last four races
• Finished 13th or worse in seven of last eight races

Miami – Very Bad

• Finished 14th or worse in three straight races at Miami
• Only one top 10 finish in 12 Miami starts (fourth 2014)
• Started 15th, 26th in Stage 1, 25th in Stage 2, finished 16th in this race one year ago

 

Ryan Newman

• Finished 11th at ISM Raceway (14th in Stage 1, 11th in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Bad

• Finished outside the top 10 in seven of last eight races

Miami – Hit or Miss

• Last eight races at Miami: four Top 10s and four finishes of 12th or worse
• Finished 16th or worse in two of last three races at Miami
• Started 21st, 18th in Stage 1, 16th in Stage 2, finished 10th in this race one year ago

 

JIMMIE JOHNSON

• Finished 15th at ISM Raceway (16th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2); damaged in multi-car accident lap 269

2018 Season – Cold

• Finished outside the top 10 in four straight races and five of last six
• Last 12 races: 4 top-10s and eight finishes of 12th or worse
• Currently on a 58-race winless streak (longest of career)

Miami – Good

• Finished top-10 in four of last five Miami races (27th in 2017)
• Finished in Top 10 in 11 of 17 career starts at Miami
• Started 22nd, 32nd in Stage 1, 31st in Stage 2, finished 27th in this race one year ago

 

Alex Bowman

• Finished 30th at ISM Raceway (ninth in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2); DNF – penalized for uncontrolled tire on Lap 136; collected in multi-car accident lap 269; spun in Turn 2 from 15th and hit wall with engine failure

2018 Season – Bad

• Finished 14th or worse in three straight races and five of last six

Miami – Very Bad

• Never finished better than 16th in three career starts at Miami

Mother of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller passes away

JR Motorsports
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Brenda Jackson, mother of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller, has died following a battle with cancer, JR Motorsports announced Monday. She was 65.

Formerly Brenda Gee, she married Dale Earnhardt in 1972. Together they had Kelley (1972) and Dale Jr. (1974) before separating.

Jackson was one of two daughters and four children to NASCAR fabricator Robert Gee, a Virginia native who built winning cars for racers, including Earnhardt.

After her separation from Earnhardt, the children stayed with her as Earnhardt tried to establish his racing career. After a fire claimed their home, Jackson moved back to Virginia while the children went to live with Earnhardt.

She remarried in 1985 to William M. Jackson Jr., a firefighter in Norfolk, Virginia. When he retired they moved back to North Carolina with step-daughter Meredith. Jackson joined JR Motorsports as an accounting specialist in 2004 and remained there through 2019.

Jackson is survived by her husband; her children Dale Earnhardt Jr. (wife Amy), Kelley Earnhardt Miller (husband L.W.), step-daughter Meredith Davis (husband Jonathan); her grandchildren Karsyn Elledge (18), Kennedy Elledge (13), Wyatt Miller (7), Callahan Davis (16), Claudia Davis (13), and Isla Rose Earnhardt (11 months); her brothers Robert Gee (wife Beverly) and Jimmy Gee; and her beloved Pekingese dog, Scully.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Piedmont Animal Rescue or Hospice and Palliative Care of Iredell.

Nashville Fairgrounds promoters respond to claims of contract breach

Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville
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Last week Claire Formosa, the VP of Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, and a lawyer representing Formosa Productions pushed back against allegations made by the Nashville Board of Fair Commissioners that the company had breached its contract to run the track.

On April 8, the Fair Board commission sent a letter to the Formosas informing them that it was exercising a breach clause in their contract over two items: the track breaking its designated curfew of 7 p.m. on a school night and unpaid concessions commission of $31,930 from last year.

A third issue had been resolved regarding late office rent payments for the first three months of the year.

The claims by the commission come as the Formosas and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. face obstacles in their attempts to bring NASCAR back to the short track.

“To suggest that Formosa Productions breached its contract … that’s a serious allegation and I don’t believe that’s well-founded,” said Jim Roberts, the Formosa’s attorney, during the monthly Fair Board meeting on April 16.

Roberts observed that the language of the contract does not state when the concession payments are due.

“So I would submit that it’s impossible to be in breach of a contract when there are no payment schedules to find,” Roberts said.

Roberts argued concession payments would not be due until the end of the contract on March 23, 2023.

“That’s not how things are normally done, but let’s just be honest, that’s what the contract as drafted says,” Roberts said. Roberts also claimed the Formosas were not aware the concessions payments were part of the contract and that they’d never received an invoice.

“There’s been no invoicing, I think the board needs to be aware of that, no invoicing of these concessions until last week,” Roberts said, who added the Formosas asked for the invoices and received them on April 9, but that the provided invoices totaled $28,430 and not the $31,930 referenced in the April 8 letter.

The Fair Board’s letter alleged that the track broke its 7 p.m. curfew on March 27 when Kyle Busch took part in a test session for the All-America 400.

The Board claimed this violation came after a verbal warning for curfew violation on May 10 of last year. Roberts said the Formosas have no idea what event was held on that date to warrant the warning.

Regarding Busch’s test date, Roberts claimed the Formosas understood that if they received permission from the principal of a nearby school and the neighborhood association, there would be “no objection or problem” with a late track running time.

Roberts said they have a letter from the principal and the permission from the neighborhood association allowing the test.

Formosa said she had gone to the March neighborhood association meeting and was told she was cleared to go ahead with a late track rental, as long as she had the support of the school principal in the area.

Board member Jason Bergeron mentioned a series of emails from before March 27 where Formosa was told by Executive Director Laura Womack that they’d still be limited by the curfew and he noted that the principal’s permission was not part of the contract.

“She let me know and I told her ‘OK’,” Formosa said. “It was a complete miscommunication between myself and my office staff.”

With the test going beyond 8 p.m., Formosa, who was not on site, traveled to the track and shut it down by 8:17. p.m.

Bergeron said he’s heard from people in the neighborhood “that they don’t feel like they can count on that 7 o’clock curfew” when it comes to track rentals.

Formosa objected to this assertion.

“We have these monthly neighborhood meetings for this very reason,” Formosa said. “I can tell you that I never heard an issue raised by either one of the neighborhood associations. If there were issues raised, this is certainty the first time I’m hearing about them.”

K&N Series’ Jagger Jones, Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme pair up for Baja race

Photos: Richard Shute/Auto Imagery
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Jagger Jones is going to spend Spring Break not in Daytona Beach or Fort Lauderdale – but he’ll be seeing a lot of sand nonetheless.

About 1,300 miles worth.

The 16-year-old rookie NASCAR K&N Pro Series West driver will be taking part in his second consecutive National Off-Road Racing Association 1000 off-road race (also known as the Mexican 1000) from April 28 – May 2 in Baja California, Mexico.

Sitting alongside Jones and splitting driving duties will be legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme, who will also be competing in his second Mexican 1000.

It’s not an easy race, for sure,” Jones told NBC Sports. “It’s long, it’s five days, it’s hot, the end of April and the start of May. Don really liked being in last year’s race, but I could tell he was unsure if he was up to do it again. Then my dad and I threw out the deal where we split the race and Don was on-board with that. We both just jumped on that idea.”

MORE: Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme pairs with Parnelli Jones’ grandson for Mexican 1000

While other teenagers may be intimidated to be paired with one of the most legendary names in motorsports, Jones isn’t. He’s used to being around iconic racers, most notably his grandfather, Parnelli Jones. And his father, P.J., is not only a noted racer himself, he also built the Polaris off-road buggy that his son and Prudhomme will drive in the 1000.

It’s really cool to be able to do a race with the one and only Snake, who has been such a legend in the drag racing community,” Jones said. “I’m only 16 years old, so I think it’s pretty awesome.

I’ve always been around the off-road scene and watched my dad do a lot of races off-road. I grew up around Robby Gordon and off-road places like Parker (Arizona), where we always go there every year and go camping. I’ve always wanted to do off-road racing. My brother and I both enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of different than the pavement stuff. It’s really fun when you’re sideways and stuff.”

Prudhomme is looking forward to racing with Jagger.

Doing it with Jagger, he’s a young, real aggressive driver and he’s really fast,” Prudhomme said. “I couldn’t think of a better kid to be my co-driver.”

Jones is able to take part in the Mexican 1000 because the K&N Series West is on a six-week hiatus, his next race not being until May 11 in Tucson.

He’s done well in his first two K&N races, finishing runner-up in his series debut at Las Vegas (was knocked out of the lead on the final lap) and fourth at Irwindale Speedway.

Jones sits tied for third in the K&N West standings, three points behind series frontrunner Hailie Deegan.

I think we’ve had a great start to the season,” Jones said. “It was definitely a bit of a learning curve, but … so far for a rookie season, I don’t think it’s too bad of a start.”

Jones competed in last year’s Mexican 1000 with younger brother Jace. The pair were in the lead when the transmission on their off-road buggy failed, ending their hopes of a win (their father won in another class in the same race). Prudhomme finished 95th in a field of more than 150 drivers in the same event.

Much like Prudhomme feels he has unfinished business in Baja, Jones feels the same way. Now paired with the “Snake,” Jagger is ready to go for the win.

We definitely have a shot at winning,” Jones said. “It’s like an endurance race. First, you have to finish to win. That’s probably going to be our biggest goal.

We want to do good, but if we can just finish, I think we’ll wind up in a good place. If we finish, anything else is a bonus. To win would be awesome. My dad won last year, so if we could follow that up this year, it’d be super cool.”

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Michael Annett feels like ‘I belong here’ after best start of Xfinity career

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If Michael Annett‘s dog could talk.

The owner of three dogs, Annett has had Paisley, a miniature golden doodle, for 13 years.

That’s more than the entirety of his full-time NASCAR career, which began in 2009.

Along with his girlfriend at the time, Paisley was a passenger in Annett’s car in February during the seven-hour drive back from Daytona International Speedway a day after Annett scored his first career Xfinity Series win.

“She’s seen it all,” Annett told NBC Sports. “I’m sure she was pinching herself, too. It was just pretty special to have that time in the car, honestly. It wasn’t a bad thing I drove because it gave me those seven hours to really digest everything we did the day before is pretty special.”

Annett’s win locked him into the Xfinity playoffs, which he was unable to take part in last year in his second season with JR Motorsports. Annett and what was then the No. 5 team finished 16th in a season that saw Annett work with two crew chiefs for most of the campaign’s 33 races.

The second crew chief, the man who leads Annett’s No. 1 team now, was Travis Mack.

A former car chief at Hendrick Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne’s crew chief at Leavine Family Racing, Mack joined Annett’s team after 19 races had been completed.

The change came as the series entered Annett’s worst stretch of races.

“He came in and we had three road courses (Mid-Ohio, Road America, Watkins Glen) and Bristol right away,” Annett said. “I told him leading up to it, ‘This is where I’m the worst, road courses. I’m sorry they’re throwing you to the wolves like this.'”

Annett didn’t finish better than 12th at the road courses, but he snagged a seventh-place finish at Bristol, his first top 10 through 22 races. He’d round out the season with three, including a ninth in the finale in Miami.

“We left Homestead everybody was just really pumped for February to come,” Annett said.

Annett approached the ensuing offseason differently than at any other point in his career.

“A lot of guys when you leave Homestead we kind of scatter,” Annett said. “Honestly, the whole offseason I was at the shop almost every day. Team lunches with guys, dinners with the guys. The crew chief, Travis Mack and I, working out every morning together. Just always bouncing ideas back and forth and if it wasn’t about racing it was team camaraderie and just building that relationship, wanting to make sure everyone on that 1 team’s going to hold the end of the rope for you if you’re hanging by it. That’s what you need, you gotta to have everybody bought into the same goal and I think just building that relationship and unity`has been a huge benefit for us.”

It didn’t just benefit Annett at Daytona.

After eight races, Annett is off to the best start of his NASCAR career. He has two top fives (Daytona and Las Vegas) and five top 10s, two shy of the seven total he had when he returned to Xfinity from Cup in 2017.

“Going to Atlanta and being fast in practice, didn’t have the best race, finished 12th. Last year at that point, man, we’d be high-fiving for a 12th,” Annett said. “Just continued to grow and it’s still continuing to grow. We’re not even close to where we want to be right now.”

Annett’s performance in 2018 came back to bite him early in the season when two of the first three races had qualifying rained out. That caused the field to be established by last year’s owner points. He started 16th at Atlanta and Las Vegas.

As a result Annett missed out on getting more stage points than he thought he was capable of.

“That put us in a pretty big hole right away,” Annett said. “But even those races, honestly is when we got the most (12 total). It’s hard to say. I’m not a genie or anything, but I feel like we’d have more bonus points at this point, but I still feel like those were some of our best races for some reason.”

With his Daytona win and being locked into the playoffs, Annett’s team has taken gambles he’s never been able to, like staying out on old tires in the middle of Stage 1 at Richmond. It didn’t work out and Annett finished the race in 13th.

“It took a little bit (of adjusting) just because I was hungry for those top fives and when you don’t have a top-five car you know if it doesn’t work out you’re going to be outside the top 10,” Annett said. “That part’s been tough. Really had to get in my head and figure out what’s going to help us go through rounds in the playoffs. Once I really got that in my head it was easy.”

What has Annett learned about himself as a driver in the months since Mack was brought on board?

“I think that just that I belong here,” Annett said. “At some point you beat yourself down long enough you start to wonder if you remember how to drive a race car or if you belong. But once you start to show that consistency and you’re passing cars that you know that could have a chance to win a race and you’re driving by them, it’s moments like that. When you’re driving past race-winning cars that’s when you start to get that confidence and ‘Yeah, you still remember how to do this.'”