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.
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.