Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity teams look to rebound in Texas

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Just over a month ago, the Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Xfinity operation had plenty to feel good about.

Exiting the June 13-14 doubleheader at Homestead-Miami Speedway, two of its three series regulars — Harrison Burton and Brandon Jones — had combined for three wins and locked themselves into the playoffs.

Burton left Miami having earned his second win of the year, in the first race of the doubleheader.

After an eighth-place finish in the second part of the doubleheader, Burton boasted a Series rookie record with 10 consecutive top-10 finishes to start a season.

Since then, up is down and down is up for JGR.

In the five races following the Miami doubleheader, Burton has failed to finish better than 12th. That includes two DNFs for wrecks (Talladega and Pocono). Burton has only led 18 laps in that span, including 15 in the second Kentucky race last Friday.

But Burton finished 12th in that event after late-race contact with Noah Gragson. In a sign of the rising frustration for the rookie, Burton and Gragson got into a fight in the garage afterward.

Now the 19-year-old driver sets his eyes on Saturday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN), where he’ll make his second series start at that track. He placed seventh there last fall.

“I’m looking forward to getting back on the track and getting things turned around this week at Texas,” Burton said in a media release. “My DEX Imaging team has brought me really fast cars the last few weeks, unfortunately, we just don’t have the finishes to show for it.

“As a team, we have had good speed at 1.5-mile ovals, so I expect that to be the same this weekend. I think we can take what we have learned since we have been back racing, continue to apply those tools this weekend, and come home with another good finish for DEX and everyone that supports us on this No. 20 team.”

While the last five races have been bad for Burton, it’s been worse for Jones.

After he was runner-up in the second Miami race, the two-time Xfinity winner hit a wall, multiple times

In the next race at Talladega, he only managed an 18th-place finish.

Jones failed to finish the next four races. At Pocono on June 28, he spun from contact with Austin Cindric exiting Turn  1 on the first lap and slammed into the inside wall.

Brandon Jones
Brandon Jones after his Lap 1 wreck at Kentucky on July 9. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

On the Indianapolis road course on July 4, a problem with an oil line caused flames to erupt from his No. 19 Toyota and sent him off course, ending his day on Lap 34 of 62.

Then he wrecked out of both races in the Kentucky doubleheader. The first race saw him spin in Turn 2 on the first lap, collecting Jeb Burton in the process. The next night, he made it within 22 laps of the finish when he spun and hit the Turn 1 wall while racing Daniel Hemric for position.

Jones journeys to Texas where he’s finished sixth or better in two of his last three starts there.

“We are heading to one of my favorite tracks on the circuit after a very frustrating weekend at Kentucky,” Jones said in a media release. “Our team showed speed last week, but unfortunately we didn’t get the finishes we were capable of. Texas Motor Speedway is exactly what we need as a team. It’s a fast mile-and-a-half and the track surface is starting to get a few bumps which really builds a unique characteristic.

“It also holds a lot of grip and always produces great racing. … Joe Gibbs Racing has always had strong cars at Texas, and it’s time to get back to our earlier season form and put our Menards Supra back in victory lane.”

The only bright spot for JGR over the last five races has been in rookie Riley Herbst.

After he earned five top 10s through the first 10 races – including a runner-up to Burton at Auto Club Speedway – the 21-year-old driver has earned three more since Miami. That includes a ninth-place finish at Pocono, his second career runner-up in the first Kentucky race and a 10th the following night.

Going into Texas, Herbst has eight top 10s – one more than Jones – but has only led four laps through 15 races.

“Heading to Texas this week should be a fun race,” Herbst said in a media release. “After a few weeks of tracks where I had been before in the ARCA series, we’re back to a track that I have never been before and I will make my first laps when we start the race on Saturday. I’ve spent time with Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and watched videos of past races, as well as spent time in the sim to learn as much as I can to prepare for the race.

“We’re coming off two strong runs at Kentucky with our Monster Energy Supra team, so I think we can keep the momentum going this weekend, find our best line on the track and get us another top-10 finish and maybe even leave with some new cowboy hats. That would be pretty cool for our first win.”

History has been kind to JGR in the Xfinity Series at Texas.

JGR leads all teams with 13 wins at Texas. But those 13 wins came from Kyle Busch (nine), Erik Jones (three) and Christopher Bell (one).

Busch is entered in Saturday’s race for his fourth of five Xfinity starts this season.

Hailie Deegan: Road courses are ‘one of my stronger suits’

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Many drivers will be navigating the Daytona road course for the first time this weekend.

Hailie Deegan is not one of them.

Deegan, who competes in the ARCA Menards Series, will be in the field when the series takes to the 14-turn, 3.61-mile circuit for practice and a race Friday evening (5 p.m. ET on Trackpass).

“I’m pretty excited because this was not one of the races we had planned on our schedule,” Deegan told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast earlier this week. “At the beginning of the year I saw all the races, obviously to see which ones you’re looking forward to, like your favorites and stuff and obviously this on wasn’t on there.  … I like road courses. I raced at Sonoma about twice (in ARCA Menards West). I was decent there, I qualified on the pole one of the times (2019) there against a lot of good drivers. It was a confirmation that, ‘Ok, we’re decent at road courses.'”

Deegan, who enters the race fourth in the point standings behind Michael Self, first got a shot at the road course at the beginning of the year. As a Ford development driver, she took part in multiple days of testing before competing in a Michelin Pilot Challenge race in a GT4 Mustang.

“I would not say I’m perfect at road courses,” Deegan said. “But I feel that’s one of my stronger suits. I’m trying to learn this whole stock car world. Circle track, everything like that, that’s all been a foreign concept. So everything I’m learning I’m learning for the first time. But when we go back to road courses, I grew up in go karting, I grew up racing off-road trucks on courses where you turn right and left. So that’s not a foreign concept to me. So I feel more comfortable on road courses, especially with us only getting an hour of practice and all the time I have on that track.

“I have so many days of practice from the beginning of the year on that track. Obviously, it’s a different car, a GT4 Mustang.  … It’s easy to drive, but hard to be fast in an IMSA car. (While) the stock cars are harder to drive, but you have that experience, I feel like you can have a little bit of an advantage over people.”

With eight races left in the season, Deegan will try to take that advantage to victory lane for his first career ARCA win. The last time she visited Daytona in February, she finished second in the season opener to Self.

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.