Erik Jones clinches spot in playoffs with win at Darlington

Leave a comment

NOTE: There will be an encore presentation of Sunday’s race on Monday afternoon from 3-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Even though he and the other 38 competitors endured a nearly four-hour rain delay that postponed the start, Erik Jones went on to clinch a spot in the upcoming NASCAR Cup playoffs, winning the Bojangles’ Southern 500, which ended early Monday morning.

The victory also came in a milestone fashion as Jones took the win in his 100th career Cup start.

Jones held off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in a classic battle in the final 10 laps of the 367-lap event around the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval to earn his first win of 2019 and the second triumph of his NASCAR Cup career.

“I’m wore out mentally and physically, more mentally than anything,” Jones told NBCSN. “Kyle was really running hard and is one of the best guys out there.

“I was pedaling as hard as I could and I’m just glad I could hold him off and finally get to victory lane. I feel like this has been coming to us for a long time, so it feels real good. There’s been a lot of doubt and speculation (about his future after this season) and I put my heart and soul into this and my race team, This is my living and how I want to make a career and what I want to do.

“It don’t get any better. I rate this race real high and it’ll look damn good to see my face on that trophy.”

Jones then turned to the sell-out crowd that endured the rain delay and a race that didn’t finish until 1:53 a.m. and said, “Thank you guys for coming. You’re welcome to stay up all night with me because I guarantee I ain’t going to bed.”

Jones led 79 laps, while the younger Busch brother finished third, even though he led a race-high 118 laps. Jones’ other win was in July 2018 in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Busch likely would have finished second but he hit the wall hard with two laps to go and that pretty much sealed his fate and assured Jones the checkered flag. Kyle Larson wound up finishing second.

“I felt like both (Busch) and I were a little bit better than (Jones) at the end, but couldn’t do nothing with him, that was frustrating,” Larson told NBCSN. “I led some laps and was able to challenge at the end. I wish we could have got it done, but to come away with another top-3 at the Southern 500 is not too bad.”

Added Busch to NBCSN, “Overall, good day, and it was the best we’ve run here in a long, long time, so that was fun. It was nice to lead some laps and be up front, but I hate that we got behind on pit road and couldn’t make it up on the track. That kind of sucks.”

Kevin Harvick was fourth, while last year’s Darlington winner, Brad Keselowski, finished fifth.

Sixth through 10th were Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Paul Menard and Austin Dillon.

Even though he was disappointed in his third-place finish, Busch still received some good news. He clinched the regular season championship. Others that have already clinched their spots in the playoffs are Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman and Jones. Also clinching playoff spots on points at Darlington were Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Aric Almirola.

One race remains in the regular season for drivers to lock themselves into the 16-driver playoff field (see more in playoff update below).

There was a major wreck in Lap 274 that impacted several drivers, including Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Hemric (who started things when he lost control after having a tire go down), Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Ty Dillon, William Byron, Michael McDowell, whose car suffered the most damage in the incident.

 

The crash had significant impact on the playoff hopes for seven-time Cup champion Johnson, who is now in virtually a must-win situation next Sunday in the regular season finale, the Brickyard 400, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, if he hopes to make the playoffs.

If Johnson fails to make the playoffs, it would mark the first time in his Cup career that he did not qualify for the postseason.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kurt Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch (under caution)

Playoff update: There is now just one race remaining for drivers to qualify for the 16-car NASCAR Cup playoffs, next Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Here’s how the playoff picture looks after Darlington: Clint Bowyer moved back above the cutline, eight points ahead of Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman, who are currently tied for 16th. Newman and Suarez were involved in an incident in the race that impacted Newman’s place in the standings. And as for Jimmie Johnson, he’s 18 points behind the cutoff line. Paul Menard is 69 points back and Chris Buescher is 86 points back.

Here’s what some of those drivers on either side of the playoff cutoff line had to say to NBCSN after the race:

Clint Bowyer: “We definitely took care of business and did what we needed to do. We lost some ground on my part last week at Bristol. … It was fun.”

Ryan Newman: “(Contact with Suarez) He had me jacked up going into the corner. That pretty much was uncalled for. He was struggling to catch me and finally got to me and turned me around. I guess what comes around goes around.”

Daniel Suarez: “We all were racing very hard. I know Newman is very well known for racing extremely hard and is hard to pass and I have a lot of respect for him. He was just blocking me. I got him loose but I didn’t touch him. My car is 100 percent clean. He raced me hard, I raced him hard back. … (On being tied with Newman for final playoff spot) It should be good, I love Indianapolis, it’s one of my favorite race tracks. We’re going to go there, have some fun and hopefully be all-in (the playoffs) after Indianapolis. I can’t wait to finish Indianapolis hopefully on the good side of things and go fight hard.”

Jimmie Johnson: “I’ve had at least 15 years of a lot of luck on my side and seven great years of championships. To have two or three bad ones is just part of it. … (Must-win scenario at Indy) We’re running out of days and if we miss it, it’ll be just by a few (points), I believe. I can look back over the first half of the season and see a lot of races where we gave away a few points. It isn’t fair to put all the pressure on one race at Indy, but it is what it is and we’re going there to win the race.”

Who else had a good day: Larson came close and challenged Jones with about 25 laps to go, and then fell back to third before regaining second following Kyle Busch’s contact with the wall with two laps to go. … Matt DiBenedetto continues to show why he deserves a ride for 2020 with his eighth-place finish. … Paul Menard tried his best to give the Wood Brothers their 100th career Cup win as an organization. Even though he fell short and finished ninth, it was one of Menard’s strongest efforts this season.

Who had a bad day: Denny Hamlin had a good shot at winning before being involved in the big wreck on Lap 274. His team tried to fix his car on pit road, but there was too much damage, leaving Hamlin to finish a disappointing 29th … Ricky Stenhouse Jr. struggled all day and finished 33rd, 16 laps off the lead lap.

Notable: Sunday marked the 70th year of racing at Darlington. Only 51 drivers have won at the Track Too Tough To Tame, and Jones adds his name to that list. … Due to the nearly 4-hour rain delay, there was a competition caution on Lap 35.

What’s next: Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard (aka Brickyard 400), Sunday, Sept. 8, 2 p.m. ET on NBC. Everything is on the line for the six drivers still battling for the two remaining playoff spots.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

DGR-Crosley switches from Toyota to Ford beginning in 2020

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ford Performance is strengthening its driver development program by joining forces with DGR-Crosley, which announced its move from Toyota to Ford Wednesday.

The multi-year agreement will see team co-owner David Gilliland, a former Cup Series driver, lead the team’s driver development program as it field entries in late models, the ARCA Menards Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

“We’re very excited to have DGR-Crosley come to Ford as part of our long-term efforts to develop drivers for NASCAR,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “We have just scratched the surface of what is possible in developing the next generation of Ford drivers with people like Chase Briscoe, and we believe a coordinated effort with a team like DGR-Crosley will help move that process forward successfully.

“David Gilliland was a trusted and valued Ford driver in NASCAR for many years, and we look forward to renewing that relationship with him in this new effort.”

Said Gilliland: “I’m super excited about the partnership with Ford and how things are lining up for 2020. I spent a lot of time racing Fords throughout my career, and it’s really special to now be able to bring them into our race shop. A lot of time and consideration was spent on this decision, and internally we know that this is the move that we needed to make in order to advance our program to the top level. We have a great group of hard-working, talented people at DGR-Crosley, and with Ford coming on board, our future is really bright. We’re excited for all the things ahead.”

DGR-Crosley will announce its driver lineup at a later date.

The team first entered the Truck Series in 2018. Tyler Ankrum won its first race this year at Kentucky Speedway, qualifying for the playoffs in the process.

It fielded a team record five entries in the playoff race at ISM Raceway.

Brennan Poole to compete full-time for Premium Motorsports in Cup Series

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Former Xfinity Series driver Brennan Poole will compete full-time in the Cup Series in 2020 with Premium Motorsports, Poole announced Wednesday on social media.

Poole, 28, will drive the No. 15 Chevrolet and would make his Cup debut in the Daytona 500.

He joins a rookie class that includes Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer.

“I’ve been working towards this moment since I was 5 and feel blessed to have the caliber of people surrounding me that I have in this next chapter of my racing career,” Poole said in a press release. “I look forward to the opportunity to showcase our sponsor partners, both new and existing, who are supporting me at the highest level of NASCAR competition.”

Poole takes over the car that was driven by Ross Chastain in a majority of his Cup starts in 2019.

A native of The Woodlands, Texas, Poole drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series from 2016-17. His best finish was second in the 2017 race at Kentucky Speedway.

He made 13 starts in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2019, driving for On Point Motorsports. His best result was second in the May race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m very happy to welcome Brennan and his group to the Premium Motorsports family,” team owner Jay Robinson said in the press release. “Brennan is a very talented and dedicated young man, I believe he has a very bright future in the NASCAR Cup Series.”

Bojangles’ ends sponsorship of Southern 500

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The fast food chain Bojangles’ will no longer sponsor the Southern 500.

Bojangles’ has sponsored the event at Darlington Raceway since 2012.

Since 2015, the Southern 500 has been the site of NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend, with Cup and Xfinity Series teams fielding retro paint schemes celebrating the sport’s history.

DarlingtonRaceway.com

“We’ve enjoyed a terrific relationship with Bojangles’ since 2012 and we look forward to their continued involvement in NASCAR for many years to come,” track president Kerry Tharp said in a statement. “Like Darlington, they are truly an authentic Southern brand.”

A logo for the race on Darlington’s website does not include a sponsor.

“Bojangles’ has enjoyed a long and successful partnership with the team at Darlington Raceway,” Bojangles’ said in a statement provided to NBC’s Myrtle Beach-affiliate WMBF. “While we will no longer be the title sponsor for the Southern 500, NASCAR remains an important part of our sports marketing strategy, and we look forward to announcing our plans for 2020 in the near future.”

The 2020 Southern 500 is scheduled for Sept. 6 on NBCSN.

NBC Sports Power Rankings: What were best NASCAR teams overall in 2019?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As NASCAR Talk continues its post-season Power Rankings, here are the 10 teams we feel performed the best throughout the entire season across all three major series: Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

We made our picks based using a number of variables including which drivers work the best with their crew chiefs, which teams have the strongest pit crews, how a team was run, and assorted other elements that often spell the difference between success and lack thereof.

Note that we are selecting the best TEAMS, not necessarily the best organizations overall. But as you will soon find out, several of those best teams also came from within the same organization, as well.

Here’s how we picked them:

1. Kyle Busch and No. 18 Cup team (30 points): Sure, this team slumped a bit in the second half of the season, going winless in 21 of the final 22 races (although they still were able to win the regular season championship), but when everything was on the line in the championship-deciding race at Miami, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens proved why they are the best … and why they are the champions.

2. Martin Truex Jr. and No. 19 Cup team (27 points): From an overall consistency standpoint, there are few teams like the one spearheaded by Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn. Truex won the championship in 2017 and finished second in 2018 and 2019. The No. 19 also had a combined 19 wins in those three seasons. No other team matched that kind of performance (although Busch came close with 18 wins and finishes of 2nd, 4th and 1st during that same period). Truex will have a new crew chief in 2020 after Pearn unexpectedly announced he was leaving his position with Joe Gibbs Racing on Monday.

3. Kevin Harvick and No. 4 Cup team (23 points): Even though most other teams would welcome the opportunity to have the kind of performance the No. 4 team has enjoyed, the No. 4 team is seemingly stuck in a loop of sorts. Even though Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have a team that has won 14 races in the last three seasons and have one of the best pit crews in the business, they’ve finished third in each of those last three seasons. This is a team that has made a few mistakes over that same time period, and it can be argued that may be one of the reasons why it finished third so frequently.

4. Denny Hamlin and No. 11 Cup team (22 points): The combination of Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart together for the first time in 2019 paid big dividends, particularly with six wins (including the Daytona 500). Not only was that the second-most number of wins in a single season for Hamlin – and the most races he’s won in a decade – but also was a big bounceback after Hamlin failed to win even one race in 2018 with former crew chief Mike Wheeler. Sadly, the season did not end the way Hamlin and company had hoped. And given he is now 39 years old, it may very well have been the last strong bid Hamlin will have to win that elusive Cup championship.

5. Christopher Bell and No. 20 Xfinity team (15 points): There’s domination, then there’s what this team did from 2018-19. No titles, but 15 wins, 38 top fives and 41 top 10s in 66 races. Bell now advances to the Cup Series for 2020 and he’s taking crew chief Jason Ratcliff with him, which is a no-brainer.

(tie) 6. Chase Elliott and No. 9 Cup team (7 points): Valiant comeback to advance past the second round was wasted when everything went wrong in the next round. Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson have become a strong team, winning a combined six races in the last two years, but there is still the issue of performing well under pressure. Elliott appeared a lock to advance to the Championship 4 round until he reached the third round and finished 36th, 32nd and 39th, ending his title hopes with a definitive thud.

(tie) 6. Ross Chastain and No. 45 Truck team (7 points): A team that opened the season not planning to run a full season with one driver, switched to a championship hunt after eight races, bounced back from having a win disqualified to win the next race and made it to the Championship 4.

(tie) 6. Cole Custer and No. 00 Xfinity team (7 points): Upgraded at crew chief with Mike Shiplett and went from a one-win-per-season team for the previous two seasons to finishing with seven wins in 2019, one less win than Christopher Bell. Not surprisingly, Custer and Shiplett will remain together when Custer jumps to the Cup series and the No. 41 in 2020.

(tie) 9. Joey Logano and No. 22 Cup team (6 points): It was a similar season to 2018 for Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon in 2019, but the end results were diametrically opposite. Whereas Logano went from underdog to champ in 2018, he fell short of running for a second career title in 2019, ultimately finishing fifth in the standings. Still, this duo works very well together. One thing that needs to be looked at if Logano wants to improve in 2020 is to cut down on the number of mistakes both he and his pit crew make.

(tie) 9. Tyler Reddick and No. 2 Xfinity team (6 points): This was an outstanding season for Reddick despite some challenges. Not only did Reddick move to Richard Childress Racing after he won the 2018 Xfinity championship for JR Motorsports, Reddick and crew chief Randall Burnett worked seamlessly throughout the season, winning five times and failing to finish in the top 10 just six times in 33 races. No surprise, they’ll stay together when Reddick drives the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing in 2020, with Burnett going with him.

Others receiving votes: Brad Keselowski and No. 2 Cup team (5 points), Austin Hill and No. 16 Truck team (5 points), Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Truck team (2 points), Kyle Larson and No. 42 Cup team (3 points) and Ryan Newman and No. 6 Cup team (1 point).

Follow @JerryBonkowski