With an inadvertent but legal deke, Erik Jones rallies for third

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LOUDON, N.H. – With critical points hanging in the balance for a playoff bid, Erik Jones thought he screwed up Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Instead, he inadvertently might have stumbled across a new strategy for keeping opponents guessing on pit stops.

During the final caution with 35 laps remaining, Jones swerved to the right back on the racing surface at the last minute, driving over the pit lane commitment box.

Jones began fuming over the team radio, but he eventually was informed there would be no penalty from NASCAR, which changed its rule governing pit entry over the past two seasons. Drivers with four tires below the boundary must enter the pits; Jones had only his left-sides below.

Two tires below once would have committed a car to the pits at tracks such as New Hampshire and shorter, and that caused some confusion on Twitter (NASCAR senior vice president Steve O’Donnell clarified the call).

But it raises an interesting point: Should every driver who is committed to staying on track fake a move to the pits by rolling over the commitment box as Jones did?

“I don’t think NASCAR would appreciate that very much, and I’m glad we didn’t get a penalty,” Jones said with a smile. “But it’s definitely an interesting situation. I forgot (what) the rules actually said, and I think many people probably were surprised by that.

“So I think you might see some more faking out. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Crew chief Chris Gayle was sure Jones would escape punishment after he watched the replay and saw the No. 20 Toyota had at least two wheels above the inside boundary.

“I was like, ‘Oh, we’re good,’ because you’ve got to have all four below the box, and he kind of split it,” Gayle said. “I think he didn’t think about it. They say it in the driver’s meeting all the time now, and you’ve got to pay attention, but most everywhere it’s all four below the orange box.”

After restarting in second behind race winner Kevin Harvick, Jones hung on for third behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin and punctuated a race in which he overcame contact with two drivers and a speeding penalty.

He started fourth and catapulted into the lead with a two-tire call by Gayle on Lap 48. Jones finished second in the first stage and then made contact with Alex Bowman’s No. 88 Chevrolet while exiting his pit stall on Lap 111. That necessitated another stop dropping him to 28th as the last car on the lead lap.

“We had contact here on pit road (in the 2017 race), and it ended our day, blew a tire on the restart, so we couldn’t risk that,” Jones said. “We couldn’t have a DNF, so coming down to fix it was the right thing to do. We had to make that right and put ourselves back out there, but it was up and down.”

While battling through the field 20 laps later, Jones made contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who brought out a Lap 138 yellow by hitting the wall with a flat tire from the damage. Jones incurred a speeding penalty entering the pits during the caution.

But he restarted in 11th and steadily marched forward during the second half. He was in fifth when the yellow flew the last time, allowing Gayle to keep his car on track and restart beside Harvick.

“That was the good thing,” Jones said. “The (car) had enough speed to get back up there and get in contention. I think at the end with some clean air, we could be in (Harvick’s) spot, I think we were just as fast as him there the run before, so we have to keep putting ourselves up there, and eventually it’s going to work out, but a good testament to our team, just the way we came back today.”

With six races remaining in the regular season, he is ranked 14th and is 28 points above the cutoff line after entering New Hampshire in 16th with only a two-point cushion. But when other bubble drivers had trouble Sunday, it made Gayle’s strategy decisions simpler.

“It wasn’t as bad today because you start seeing other guys having problems that we were racing in the points,” Gayle said. “So when they all started having trouble, and we’re at the back, I’m like OK, this makes it a little bit easier. We can just do something and go for the win here at the end.”

Jones seems on the verge of a win after finishing third in four of the past nine starts.

With contract talks at JGR progressing well, the only cloud on the horizon might be Stenhouse, who vowed payback against Jones between and the playoffs.

“I guess go ahead,” Jones said when told of Stenhouse’s threat. “He was racing me really hard and for nothing. We were 200 laps to go in the race, and he had the choice of lifting and letting me go, and he didn’t do it for five laps, and that’s just how it is.

“If you’re going to race hard, you’re going to get raced hard. I didn’t want to have to do it, but sometimes it comes down to it. I like Ricky, but he races really hard. I expect it. If I’m going to race Kevin Harvick at the front of the field like that 10 laps in a row, I’m going to get wrecked. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to keep moving forward and keep giving yourself a good day.”

NASCAR’s weekend schedule for Daytona road course

Daytona road course
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For the first time this weekend, NASCAR will compete on the Daytona road course.

All three of NASCAR’s national series and the ARCA Menards Series will take to the 14-turn, 3.61-mile circuit, culminating in Sunday’s Cup Series race.

This weekend takes the place of the race at Watkins Glen International for Cup and Xfinity.

Kevin Harvick will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race. Austin Cindric will lead the Xfinity field to green on Saturday.

Here is the weekend schedule for the Daytona road course.

(All times Eastern)

Thursday, Aug. 13

10:30 a.m. – ARCA driver-spotter-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

11 – 11:30 a.m. – ARCA rookie meeting (teleconference)

11:30 a.m. – Noon – ARCA crew chief meeting (teleconference)

3 – 4 p.m. – ARCA haulers enter (screening in progress)

5:30 – 7:30 p.m. – Driver motorhome parking (screening in progress)

 

Friday, Aug. 14

9 a.m. – ARCA garage opens

9 a.m. – 4 p.m. – ARCA garage access screening in progress

2 – 3 p.m. – ARCA practice

3:30 p.m. – Xfinity rookie meeting (electronic communication)

4 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

4:50 p.m. – ARCA drivers report to their cars

5 p.m. – ARCA race; 28 laps/101.08 miles miles (MAVTV, Motor Racing Network)

6 p.m. – Truck Series driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

7:30 p.m. – ARCA haulers exit

 

Saturday, Aug. 15

6 – 8:30 a.m. – Xfinity haulers enter (screening and equipment upload)

8:30 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

8:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. – Garage screening in progress

2 – 4 p.m. – Truck Series haulers enter (screening in progress and equipment unload)

2:50 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to cars

3 p.m. – Xfinity race; 52 laps/187.72 miles (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

4 – 7 p.m. – Truck Series garage access screening in progress

4 – 8 p.m. – Truck Series garage open

4:30 – 5 p.m. – Truck Series rookie meeting (teleconference)

4:30 p.m. – Cup rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5 p.m. – Cup driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m. – Xfinity haulers exit

 

Sunday, Aug. 16

6 – 8 a.m. – Cup haulers enter (screening in progress and equipment unload)

8 a.m. – Cup garage opens

8 a.m. – 2 p.m.  – Cup garage access screening in progress

9 a.m. – Truck Series garage opens

9 – 11 a.m. – Truck Series garage access screening in progress

11:40 a.m. – Truck Series drivers report to vehicles

Noon – Truck Series race; 44 laps/158.85 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

2:30 p.m. – Truck Series haulers exit

2:50 p.m. – Cup drivers report to cars

3 p.m. – Cup race; 65 laps/234.65 miles (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

6:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit

NASCAR updates its COVID-19 guidelines

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NASCAR issued an update to teams to the sanctioning body’s COVID-19 guidelines this week.

If after 10 days, a NASCAR member is unable to produce two negative PCR tests, their return status may be medically reviewed by a NASCAR Consulting physician. Previously, a NASCAR member needed to have two negative tests more than 24 hours apart and a note from their physician to be cleared to compete.

MORE: Spencer Davis cleared to race after COVID-19 recovery

Truck Series driver Spencer Davis is the third driver to be cleared to resume racing after a positive test. He missed last week’s race at Michigan. Jimmie Johnson missed the Indianapolis race in July after a positive test. Brendan Gaughan is racing this weekend for the first time since he tested positive for COVID-19 in July.

NASCAR cites new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with updating the sport’s COVID-19 guidelines.

“As we’ve said since our return, NASCAR’s health and safety plans will continue to evolve, with the goal remaining the same – a safe event for both our competitors and the communities in which we race,” said John Bobo, NASCAR vice president, racing operations, in a statement. “NASCAR will continue to implement and execute a comprehensive plan to ensure the health and safety of our competitors and the surrounding communities.”

Here are NASCAR’s updated COVID-19 guidelines:

Confirmed Positive Cases – Symptomatic and Asymptomatic Cases. Confirmed positive cases may return to racing activities after they have received two negative test results taken at least 24 hours apart.

A. If after 10 days, a NASCAR Member is unable to produce two negative PCR tests, their return status may be medically reviewed by a NASCAR Consulting physician.

  • New CDC guidance of July 22, 2020, recommends discontinuing PCR testing after the conclusion of the 10-day isolation period for the onset symptoms for the initial COVID-19 infection, if a person is fever-free for a minimum of 24 hours without the use of medication.
  • Please note: Based on advice from consulting physicians, NASCAR counts the 10 days from the date of the first positive PCR test for COVID-19.
  • In its guidance, CDC research indicates that in no instances yet discovered has there been a case where the virus is able to self-replicate beyond the 10th day following a positive test among individuals who are not immunosuppressed and did not have severe disease (e.g. requiring ICU stay or ventilation), so an individual in this situation poses no harm to others.  In the event that the individual continues to be tested, it is very likely that the individual will continue to return positive results.
  • Based on this new CDC guidance, NASCAR consulting physicians would review the individual’s situation and determine if they appropriately fit the CDC requirements before being allowed to return to racing without two negative PCR tests.

B. They must also have written clearance from their personal physician to resume all racing activity.

Confirmed exposure to a positive COVID-19 person. Those exposed individuals are required to stand-down from competition and self-isolate. They may return to racing activities after they have received one negative test. NASCAR in its discretion may request a second test for clearance based on the nature of the exposure. Please note: a confirmed exposure is based on a totality of the circumstances as determined by NASCAR in consultation with their consulting physicians. Analysis will include: identifying people exposed over the last 10 days, accumulated time greater than 10 minutes, direct skin contact (shaking hands, etc.), lack of social distancing and the level of PPE use among the individuals involved in the contact.

 

Spencer Davis cleared to race after COVID-19 recovery

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After testing positive for COVID-19 last week, Truck Series driver Spencer Davis has been cleared to return to racing after missing just once race, Davis confirmed on social media Wednesday.

Davis had to have two negative COVID-19 tests more than 24 hours apart in order to be cleared to race.

Davis, 21, was the third NASCAR driver to test positive for the virus, joining Jimmie Johnson (who missed one race) and part-time driver Brendan Gaughan. 

Davis, who owns his Truck Series team, missed last weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway and will return to the track for Sunday’s race on the Daytona International Speedway road course (Noon ET on FS1). He will start 31st.

 

RPM or elsewhere: Where will Bubba Wallace be better off in 2021?

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As Bubba Wallace weighs offers from Richard Petty Motorsports and at least Chip Ganassi Racing, the key issue is where will Wallace be better off in 2021.

Asked Wednesday what’s important to him, Wallace noted the family atmosphere at Richard Petty Motorsports but also said: “Obviously you want to be competitive. I came into this sport wanting to win races and be a household hame on the track, so we have a lot of work to do as a team and together to get there.”

While COVID-19 has made this season unlike any other in NASCAR’s history and Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 team had a driver change in April and a crew chief change in August, statistically, the No. 42 car and Wallace’s No. 43 car are even over the past three months.

The No. 42 with Matt Kenseth has a 20.11 average finish since the season resumed in May. Wallace has a 20.16 average finish in the same time. The difference is one position over an 18-race span. Although Kenseth has the best finish in that stretch with his runner-up result at Indianapolis, Wallace has three top 10s compared to Kenseth’s two in that time. Kenseth has scored 316 points since May; Wallace has scored 313 points for RPM.

Bubba Wallace Matt Kenseth
Bubba Wallace leads Matt Kenseth earlier this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Eighteen races is only half a Cup season and doesn’t always provide the clearest picture as teams cycle through ups and downs. Kenseth, who did not compete last season, took over the No. 42 ride after the team fired Kyle Larson in April for uttering a racial slur during an online race.

Asked about talks with Chip Ganassi Racing for next year, Kenseth told NBC Sports last weekend that “we really haven’t had any very meaningful discussions really about any of that to be honest with you. I think that when things are going as bad as they’re going I don’t think either side is probably super anxious about talking about what’s happening six or eight months for now.

“I think we’re more worried about trying to get this ship righted as soon as possible and start getting some finishes and start running up front. … We really believe that the cars and the team and everything, if we have a really good day, is capable of winning. I think that’s probably what is at the forefront of our mind right now, trying to get running good first of all then hopefully executing and possibly get in a position where we could sneak one out.”

Wallace, 26, is among a number of free agents after this season. The list narrowed with Ryan Blarney signing a contract extension with Team Penske earlier this year, and Brad Keselowski recently signing an extension with Team Penske. Erik Jones is among those looking for a ride next season with rookie Christopher Bell taking Jones’ ride in the No. 20 next season at Joe Gibbs Racing.

As for what he’ll do next season, Wallace said Wednesday: “Nothing set in stone yet, still all being worked out, ironed out. Hopefully we’ll have that announcement coming soon.”

Among the benefits at Ganassi is it is a two-car team with former champion Kurt Busch. Richard Petty Motorsports is a single-car team but is aligned with Richard Childress Racing and Germain Racing, providing alliance teammates in Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Ty Dillon.

An important factor will be sponsorship. Wednesday’s announcement of a multi-year personal services deal between Columbia Sportswear and Wallace includes sponsorship for at least one race. This is the second sponsorship deal for Wallace in a month. On July 14, RPM revealed a multi-year sponsorship deal with Cash App. The deal included primary sponsorship in five races this season.

“I was always told win and they’ll come,” Wallace said of sponsorship. “And we won a couple, we won a few in the Truck Series and still fighting sponsorship issues. I haven’t won much since then. But we’ve been doing things. We’ve been winning off the racetrack. I think that’s helped being much bigger than an athlete, standing up for human beings. It’s something that we often don’t get to do just because we’re put on a pedestal.

Bubba Wallace’s most recent top-10 finish came last weekend at Michigan. He placed ninth in the first of the two Cup races there. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“With the spotlight that I put myself into, being vocal about what’s going on the world, has created opportunities for new partners. Look at Columbia here. A brand new partner, a part of the sport, a part of RPM, a part of the Bubba Wallace brand. We’re doing good things off the racetrack that helps our on-track performance. So, we will just continue those ways.

“This doesn’t even compare to the little bit of sponsor momentum we’ve had in years past. This is an incredible opportunity for me; one the best years in my racing career from that standpoint. We’re building up on a great future here, getting these partnerships and deals in place; to set the team, the partner, and myself up for great success and we’ll continue to do that.”

Finding sponsorship, deciding on where to race next year and the role Wallace has elevated to in social activism can be draining. Wallace said in late June he was “wore the hell out.” Wallace said Wednesday that he’s feeling better.

“I definitely feel a lot more upbeat,” he said. “There’s a lot of positive momentum on our side. Big things being worked on behind the scenes like this (Columbia Sportswear) that we’re excited to share with people. It’s part of it. You go through the wringer. It makes you a better person at the end of the day. Maybe it’s a new outlet for you to explore, like I said about being outspoken about things that are going on in the country and in the world, and you want to be a part of it. And that’s how I’ve felt. I didn’t know what to expect.

“You know me, I’m always just the ‘do it and figure out everything after’ and so that’s just a part of Bubba Wallace in everyday life and we’ll continue to go on. I’m always ready for whatever is thrown at me. I try to handle it in the best way I can.

“I’ll get beat-up and worn down about it and you’ll hear about it because I wear my heart on my sleeve. But all in all, we’re refreshed.”

Giving him a chance to focus on the final four regular-season races to make the playoffs and where he will race next season.

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