Photo: Jagger Jones.

Parnelli Jones’ grandson set to make own racing mark in K&N debut

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What could be the start of a promising NASCAR career begins tonight at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Jagger Jones, the 16-year-old grandson of legendary racer Parnelli Jones, and son of former NASCAR and IndyCar racer P.J. Jones, will make his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West debut in the Star Nursery 100 (NBCSN will air the race at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday).

The third-generation racer, a junior at Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale, Arizona, has spent his life at racetracks. While he only saw his grandfather race on film, from a toddler on, Jagger Jones watched his father race, then climbed behind the wheel of a go-kart himself at the age of 6.

Three generations of the Jones racing family: From left, Parnelli Jones, Jace Jones, Jagger Jones and P.J. Jones. (Photo: Jagger Jones)

I just really fell in love with the sport, and that was it from there,” Jones told NBC Sports. “I grew up at the racetrack, going to the races with my dad and grandpa.

“For me, it’s all I’ve known to do. When I was little, I played with toy cars. When I had dreams, they were about becoming a professional race car driver. I was always influenced by the racing scene, and that’s all I knew, honestly.”

While his grandfather and father spent time in the NASCAR Cup ranks, they’re primarily known for their success in IndyCar and off-road racing. In 1962, Parnelli Jones became the first driver to qualify at more than 150 mph for the Indianapolis 500 and then went on to win The Greatest Spectacle In Racing one year later. He also owned the team when Al Unser Sr. won the 500 in 1970 and 1971, as well as the team that won the 1970-1972 USAC National Championships.

P.J. Jones won IMSA’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 1993 and spent several years in the 1990s racing for one of his father’s best friends: Dan Gurney and his All American Racers. P.J. Jones also achieved noteworthy success in off-road racing and most recently competed in a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen in 2017.

But Jagger Jones is determined to bring the family name back to prominence in NASCAR.

“A lot of people wonder why I chose the NASCAR route and why I didn’t follow my grandpa’s route,” he said. “I know a lot about his past and he raced kind of everything and so did my dad. They both raced a lot of IndyCar, NASCAR and off-road.

“For me, I really admire all that, but I wanted to focus on just one thing, especially at this stage of my career, and I decided to go the NASCAR route. … Always being around him and at the racetrack, for sure, my grandfather has influenced me a lot. He’s been a huge supporter of my racing and he’s always helped out, especially the last few years when I moved up from go-karts to late models.

“My dad has always been a huge help in my career, as well. He’s always supported my racing, of course, and no matter what, he’s always trying to help me with sponsors, with on-track stuff and always trying to put me with the best teams, the best situation. Once I told him I wanted to become a professional race car driver, he’s always supported me and did what he could to further my racing.”

Jagger Jones won a Late Model race last year for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s team. (Photo: Jagger Jones)

Jagger Jones already has a number of wins in various series, including a triumph last season while competing in three races for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Late Model team at Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Speedway.

It was seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson that brought Jones to Dale Jr.’s attention.

“I’ve known (Johnson) since I was pretty little, and he’s helped me in my racing career,” Jones said. “We talk every once in a while, which is pretty cool.”

Mature teenager

When Jones takes the green flag in tonight’s race, his grandfather’s and father’s legacies will be riding with him.

“It’s all about the desire to win, putting the work in, going out there, knowing you’re the best, that you can do this and you have the desire to win,” Jones said. “We’re not just out here for fun. Sure, you better be having fun, hopefully when you’re racing, but it’s the desire to win that’s going to really take you somewhere in your career … and doing whatever it takes.”

Jones has been looking forward to his K&N debut for the last two years. While a lot of eyes will be on him due to his surname and family pedigree, he’s prepared.

Jagger Jones and the No. 6 Sunshine Ford Fusion he will drive this year. (Photo: Jagger Jones)

“I just want to go out there and learn,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing I’m going to do and focus on, try to learn in every session, listen to other people and really take advice.”

Jones will drive for the No. 6 Sunshine Ford team that won last year’s K&N Pro Series West championship. He’ll also have Bill Sedgwick, a six-time K&N West champion – twice as a driver (1991-92) and four times as a crew chief (2004-05, 2009 and 2013) – as his crew chief.

In a sense, Jones will be following in the footsteps of Hailie Deegan and Todd Gilliland. Deegan won her first K&N race last season and is one of the contenders for the series’ championship this season, while Gilliland – driving full time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports – won the K&N West crown in 2016.

I think 16 is a good age to be moving up into the K&N Series,” Jones said. “Hailie and Todd were about this age when they got their first start with the K&N West.

“People say there’s pressure and I have to perform, that it’s really a big step in my racing career. But for me, if I just do the right things, focus on learning and learning, I think I’ll be fine. I’m not too worried.”

The future will come in time

For Jones, this year’s K&N campaign is a first step toward what he hopes one day will be a move to NASCAR Cup racing. His philosophy is simple: He’ll take things one step at a time. If he enjoys success, promotion to higher series will come naturally.

“There’s a lot of drivers that have come from different backgrounds, different ages and different times, so I don’t think it’s necessary that at 22 you have to be here, at 25, you have to be this or at 18, you have to be here,” he said. “We have a basic plan where we’re doing K&N this year, maybe some ARCA races next year and maybe when I’m old enough, to go to Trucks when I’m 18.

“But really, we just have to play the way the opportunities present themselves, how I’m doing, my experience level, all of that. There’s not a set plan to follow, but definitely a basic outline of how I’m going to get to be racing Sundays full time – within the next seven years I’d say, at the most.”

While Jones’ 85-year-old grandfather won’t be in Las Vegas to watch his grandson, he will be on hand for several upcoming K&N races at tracks closer to his Southern California home. But Jagger’s father, P.J., and mom, Jolaina, will be in Las Vegas, along with Jagger’s 14-year-old brother, Jace, who is taking his older brother’s seat in Late Model racing this season.

(Photo: Jagger Jones)

“I’m really excited,” Jagger Jones said. “The days have been feeling longer once you get closer to a race just because you’re so anxious. But once you do some laps in practice, I think everything settles, and you have a better idea of where you’re at.

“I’ve only tested a K&N car two times, and that was both on pavement. Now, we go into a dirt race, which I’ve never raced on a dirt oval before. There’s a lot of unknown for me. I’ve been watching a lot of videos and talking with people that ran last year, just trying to get as much experience as I can get and be as prepared as I am.”

Making his own way and own name behind the wheel is on Jones’ radar. He chuckles when asked if his parents named him after Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.

“My dad probably thought of that, but I wasn’t named after him,” Jones said. “It just kind of came about, and they thought it was a cool name, and they went with Jagger Jones. When you have a last name like Jones, you have to have an interesting first name.”

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Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson to pursue $100K bounty in Truck Series

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The $100,000 bounty on Kyle Busch has its first contenders.

Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson each confirmed Thursday evening on Twitter that they’ll take a shot at the bounty placed by Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis last week.

Elliott will compete in the March 14 Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the May 30 race at Kansas Speedway with GMS Racing. Larson will compete with GMS Racing in the March 20 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Elliott will be sponsored by Hooters for the Atlanta race.

The declarations by the two drivers came the same day that Busch said he didn’t believe any full-time Cup Series drivers would go after the bounty.

Elliott has 12 career Truck Series starts. His last two, at Atlanta and Martinsville in 2017, came with GMS Racing. Elliott won the Martinsville race. Busch was not in that race.

“Once the word got out about the challenge, we were able to put this together with Mike Beam at GMS in just a couple of days,” Elliott said in a press release. “Atlanta is one of my favorite tracks, so I’m really looking forward to getting back into a GMS truck there with Hooters on the truck and make a run for a win.”

Larson has 13 career starts and his last three, including a win at Eldora and top five at Homestead in 2016, came with GMS Racing.

“When I heard about the $100,000 bounty I wanted in!” Larson said in a press release. “I’m thankful for GMS and Chevy giving me this opportunity, Homestead is one of my favorite tracks so looking for to the challenge!”

There’s a potential third bounty hunter waiting in the wings.

Not long after Larson’s announcement, Denny Hamlin, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, tweeted that he’s acquired the funding to field a ride. There’s just one hangup, and it’s Kyle Busch Motorsports:

The $100,000 bounty against Busch was proposed by Harvick and Lemonis, CEO of Gander RV & Outdoors, last week. It will go to any full-time Cup Series driver who beats Busch in any of his remaining four Truck Series starts this year. Busch has won the last seven Truck Series races he’s entered.

If Elliott or no other Cup driver beats Busch in those four races, the bounty will go to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

“We are blessed with this opportunity. To have an owner that is up for the challenge and a manufacturer that will support the extra effort necessary is really special,” said Mike Beam, President of GMS Racing, in a press release. “It’s great to have these two talented young men back behind the wheel for us and to have the extra attention on the Truck series is great.”

Kyle Busch: $100K Truck Series bounty is a losing proposition

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Kyle Busch doesn’t believe any full-time Cup Series driver will attempt to claim the $100,000 bounty placed on him last week by Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis.

Harvick and Lemonis, the CEO of Truck Series sponsor Gander RV & Outdoors, said they’d award that bounty to any full-time Cup Series driver who is able to beat Busch in any of his four remaining Truck Series starts this year.

Busch, who has won the last seven Truck races he’s entered, sees the challenge as a losing investment, especially if someone attempted it in one of Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Toyotas.

Thursday on the Barstool Sports’ “Rubbin’ is Racing” podcast, Busch said it costs $140,000 to rent one of his Trucks for a race.

“Right off the bat (it’s a losing proposition),” Busch said. “It’s not going to happen. Nobody is going to pay the 140 grand to rent a truck, whether it’s from me or from somebody else. (Show co-host Clint) Bowyer didn’t tell you the fact he can’t even rent a truck from me because I’m a Toyota team and he drives for a Ford team. So he has to go find a Ford truck in order to drive. So there’s those complications that fit into all of this, too.”

Denny Hamlin, Busch’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, expressed his interest in the bounty, as well Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon, who said he was “working on” a deal.

After his win last Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch’s four remaining Truck Series starts are:

March 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

March 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

March 27 at Texas Motor Speedway

May 30 at Kansas Speedway.

If no one beats Busch, the bounty will go to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America’s MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Marty Snider hosts and is joined by Kyle Petty, Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan.

James Hinchliffe will call into the show to discuss his new role as an analyst for NBC’s coverage of IndyCar, Indy Lights, IMSA and NASCAR.

You can call into the show via 844-NASCAR-NBC or submit your questions/comments via Twitter using #LetMeSayThis.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Auto Club Speedway’s old surface provides ‘moving target’ for drivers

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Auto Club Speedway has a lot of character.

It’s a character that comes from the 2-mile track’s racing surface being among the oldest on the NASCAR circuit.

The surface hasn’t been repaved since the track first opened in 1997. That’s the same year that the surface for Atlanta Motor Speedway was last resurfaced (a planned repave was put on hold indefinitely in 2017 after outcry from drivers).

In the 23 years since, races at the track in Fontana, California, have turned into producers of multi-groove spectacles (especially on restarts) that come at the cost of high levels of tire wear.

The aged surface provides a “moving target” to drivers throughout the race weekend, according to Tyler Reddick.

“During the start of the weekend, you have to watch for the seams since it’s so slick out there,” the rookie Cup driver said in a media release. “Normally, the Xfinity cars are the first ones on the track, so I’m normally very careful. Now that I’m in the Cup Series, it may be a little different. I think this weekend will be fairly similar to Las Vegas where we started out running wide open, and I’ll have to run like that until the handling starts to go away in our No. 8 I Am Second Chevrolet (and) you have to start lifting. Then it’ll be important to assess why the handling is changing and how to adjust our car correctly to battle that.”

Cup and Xfinity teams only visit Auto Club Speedway once a year and this will be the second year they’ll do so with the high downforce aero package.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones believes Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox) will be a “different race” from the one seen last year.

“Going into Fontana last year, no one really knew what we needed car-wise, balance-wise and this year we have a whole notebook to look back on to try to get better,” Jones, who finished 19th in last year’s race, said in a media release.

“I think there will be a lot more lifting, the cars will be faster. Everybody has just gotten their cars better and more efficient and faster on the straightaways and that makes for more lifting in the corners. It will probably be a little different race, but Fontana is always a good show.”

But that show depends on where a driver chooses to run around the track.

Racing along the top of the track compared to running in the bottom lane proves for “two completely different types of racing” according to defending race winner Kyle Busch.

“You can run from the top to the bottom but, when you run the bottom, you really feel like you’re puttering around the racetrack,” Busch said in a media release. “You feel like you aren’t making up any time on the bottom. But when you are running the top groove, you feel like you’re getting the job done. The guys who run the bottom have a little bit more patience and handle it better than the guys who are on the gas on top.”

When it comes to how rough the track is, Matt DiBenedetto cites how bumpy Turns 3 and 4 are, but said in a media release that traversing the “back straightaway is like going over jumps.”

But just like with the old surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway, there are those who never want to see Auto Club’s surface actually improve.

“I did an appearance at Auto Club Speedway not too long ago and I told the track officials, ‘Whatever you do, don’t repave it!'” Austin Dillon said in a media release. “Or, wait to repave it until you can figure out how to make an asphalt that is very similar to what is on the track now.”

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