Auto Club finish continues strong start for Erik Jones

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Although crew chief Dave Elenz and Erik Jones had talked on the phone three or four times last year, they didn’t meet in person until the Nov. 17 Next Gen test at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

In barely 100 days since Elenz started working with Jones, Elenz:

  • Witnessed Richard Petty Motorsports’ merger with GMS Racing to create Petty GMS Motorsports.
  • Executed the No. 43 team’s move to the GMS shop.
  • Overseen the team’s development of the new car.
  • Helped Jones to his best Cup finish Sunday since the 2020 season – when Jones was with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Jones’ third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway follows his fourth-place result in the Clash at the Coliseum and a Daytona 500 that saw him lead three laps before he was collected in an accident while running 11th late in the event. 

Since his contract was not extended by JGR after the 2020 season — making way for Christopher Bell to take over the No. 20 car — this three-week stretch represents the most Jones has run at the front in Cup.

“I still want to make my mark in the Cup Series,” Jones said after qualifying second at Auto Club Speedway this past weekend. “I’ve been able to win before, but I want to get back to that point. I know we’re capable of it. We just have to continue to do what we’ve been doing these last four weeks and continue it into the season.”

Jones was solid throughout Sunday’s race, showing signs that all the off-season changes are working. 

“The biggest thing it means,” Elenz told NBC Sports via phone after Sunday’s race, “is just a reward to all the hard work we’ve been doing. We’ve busted our behind with the merger, moving, getting all the people together. It’s been a lot of work. 

“Of course, the parts shortage that we have, it’s created even more work and our guys have done an outstanding job. I think we’re going on like 16 days straight working. (Finishing third is) a good reward, keeps spirits high and know that we can compete with those guys.”

The 52 points Jones earned Sunday tied winner Kyle Larson for most points scored in the race. 

As Elenz talked, he could be heard receiving congratulations in the garage for the team’s finish.

When Jones and the team looked at crew chief options for this season, Elenz was at the top of the list. 

Elenz and Jones both hail from Michigan – their hometowns are less than three hours away. Racing led Elenz away from the family’s logging company. He went to Clemson for its engineering program and proximity to the race shops near Charlotte, North Carolina. Elenz spent one spring break visiting about 40 race shops seeking an internship, which he got with Jasper Motorsports in 2001.

After college, he joined Ginn Racing as an engineer, working with Mark Martin. Elenz later moved to Red Bull Racing and was a part of the team when Brian Vickers scored the organization’s first Cup win in 2009. 

Elenz joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 and was an engineer on Jimmie Johnson’s 2013 championship team. Elenz went to JR Motorsports in 2015 and won Xfinity titles with William Byron in 2017 and Tyler Reddick in 2018. 

Even without experience as a Cup crew chief, Jones knew Elenz was right for him.

“I just think of what he’s done in the Xfinity Series over the last few years, where he’s worked in his career, the things he’s been able to do, the people he’s been able to work with, all molded him into the type of person and crew chief that I was looking for,” Jones told NBC Sports in January.

“The attributes that he has is, No. 1, decisiveness in a crew chief. I give feedback, and I’m looking for a change or a call, or whether we’re pitting or what we’re doing. I want somebody to give me a straight answer pretty quickly. Dave is pretty good at that. 

“(Two), someone who is engineering based. My whole career and background, especially in NASCAR, has been very engineering-heavy on the crew chief and what they can do there, and Dave has definitely got that. Three, just the experience level. If that sounds funny because he has never been a Cup crew chief, he’s been a crew chief for so long at the Xfinity level.”

One of the keys with any crew chief/driver pairing is the communication between the two. There’s no set time on how quickly it comes. For some pairings, it never quite works. For others, it can come naturally.

So far, things are going well.

“I think, between him and I, our communication is pretty direct, and he gives very accurate feedback to what he’s looking for,” Elenz said. “… I think we’re kind of like-minded. I feel we’ve clicked pretty well at understanding where each other is at right now.” 

That helps because Elenz is still learning the car after having been in the Xfinity Series since 2015. Some elements carry over. Some don’t.

“The geometry and setups in these things are definitely drastically different and that’s been probably the most challenging part to comprehend how to adjust them,” Elenz said.

Even with a this past weekend’s strong performance, Elenz said work remains for the team.

“I’m very content with a third,” he told NBC Sports. “It was a good day for points. We had mistakes we’ve got to clean up. Our pit road was not the greatest. Some of our restarts weren’t very good. Just kind of learning adjustments throughout the race, we felt we could have done a better job on. 

“There are things we need to clean up and do better, and to still come away with a third-place finish with all the stuff we have to work, I feel good about that.”


Seven of the 12 cautions in Sunday’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway were for single-car incidents or spins.

It wasn’t until the eighth race of last season that the Cup series had seven single-car incidents for the year.

With a low-downforce package and the Next Gen car, drivers are learning the vehicle’s nuances while also trying to figure out how far they can push the car before losing control. Habits gleaned on how to keep a car from spinning in the past aren’t as effective with the new car.

“There are a lot of things that are new, and when you have a lot of things new, especially in race cars you are trained by muscle memory in a lot of ways to key off different things,” Austin Cindric said after winning the pole on Saturday. 

“I am not saying I am doing anything better than anybody else, but you key off different things with different race cars when you get loose or have a moment or when things are right or wrong.”

Four former champions — Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano — each hit the wall or spun in practice or qualifying Saturday. In Sunday’s race, former champions Kyle Busch, Elliott and Keselowski were among those who spun.

Aric Almirola slid through Turn 4 on Saturday and in Sunday’s race.

“These cars are certainly a handful,” he said. 


Daniel Hemric came back from six laps down to finish in the top 10 Sunday. He placed ninth.

An issue with the shifter early in the race forced the team to lose multiple laps for repairs.

“I can’t believe we got all of them back and were even able to contend there at the end,” Hemric said after the race. ”

Hemric credited crew chief Matt Swiderski and his team for the effort.

“It was really good and super fast,” Hemric said. “It was just a matter of being back on the lead lap.”

Hemric’s achievement puts him in a rare group.

In 2014, Jamie McMurray went seven laps down after being involved in an incident at Talladega in the spring race. He got the free pass six times, finishing one lap down in 29th.

Kyle Busch came back from five laps down at Watkins Glen in 2006 to finish ninth.

There have been a couple of cases since 2007 where a driver four laps down got back on the lead lap and finished in the top 10.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went on to finish ninth at Dover in Oct. 2018.

Marcos Ambrose went on to finish 10th in the 2013 Coca-Cola 600.

According to Racing Insights, there have been 19 times a driver has rallied from three laps down to finish in the top 10 since 2007.

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024


LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.

Sunday Clash at the Coliseum: Start time, TV info, race format


LOS ANGELES – NASCAR is back and back at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Nearly three months after Joey Logano won the Cup title at Phoenix, Cup drivers return to action this weekend to run the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race on Sunday night.

This marks the second consecutive year the series has raced inside the Coliseum, which has hosted the Super Bowl, World Series and Olympics.

Details for Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum 

(All times Eastern)

HEAT RACES: There will be four 25-lap heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top five from each race advance to the Busch Light Clash. The first heat race is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

LAST CHANCE QUALIFIERS: There will be two 50-lap qualifiers for drivers who did not advance to the Clash through their heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top three finishers in each of the qualifiers advance to the Clash. The 27-car Clash lineup will be finalized by adding one provisional spot for the driver highest in points last season not yet in the Clash field. The first of these two last chance qualifying races is scheduled to begin at 6:10 p.m.

CLASH STARTING LINEUP: To be set by heat races and the Last Chance Qualifiers. Winner of heat 1 will start on the pole for the Clash. Winner of heat 2 will start second. Winner of heat 3 will start third. Winner of heat 4 will start 4th. Runner-up in heat 1 will start fifth and so on.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 11 a.m. … Driver intros are at 7:50 p.m. … Invocation by Judah Smith, lead pastor of Churchome, at 8:07 p.m. … The USC Trojan Marching Band will perform the national anthem at 8:08 p.m. … Actor Rob Lowe will give the command to fire engines at 8:15 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to be waved by USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams at 8:20 p.m.

DISTANCE: The Clash is 150 laps (37.5 miles) on the 1/4-mile short track.

STAGES: There will be a stage break at Lap 75 (halfway in the Clash). Wiz Khalifa will perform during the break.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the event, beginning at 4 p.m. . … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and also will stream at SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 63 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the start of the heat races. Partly cloudy with a high of 61 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the Clash..

LAST TIME: Joey Logano held off Kyle Busch to win the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum. Austin Dillon placed third. .

Catch up on NBC Sports coverage

New NASCAR season features several changes

Clash at the Coliseum provides a reset for RFK Racing 

Harrison Burton looks for progress in second year in Cup

Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience

Drivers to watch at Clash in Coliseum

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

Looking back on 10 historic moments in the Clash


NASCAR Saturday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum


NASCAR drivers are scheduled to hit the track today in competitive mode for the first time in 2023.

Practice is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. on the oval inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Single-car qualifying for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum is scheduled to begin at 8:35 p.m. (ET). The 36 drivers will be divided into three 12-driver groups for practice.

Cup practice groups

Cup qualfying order

Saturday’s qualifying will set the starting lineups for Sunday’s four 25-lap heat races. The top five finishers in each heat race will advance to the main event. Two 50-lap “last chance” races will follow, and the top three finishers in each of those events will join the feature field.

The 150-lap main event is scheduled at 8 p.m. (ET) Sunday.

For the second consecutive year, the Clash is being held on a purpose-built track inside the LA Coliseum, one of sport’s iconic venues. Joey Logano won last year’s race and last year’s series championship and will be among the favorites Sunday.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum


Saturday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High 71.

Saturday, Feb. 4

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 2 – 11:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 8 p.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

New NASCAR Cup season features several changes


While NASCAR looks back in celebrating its 75th season, there’s plenty new for the sport heading into the 2023 campaign.

Driver moves and schedule changes and are among some of the big changes this year. Here’s a look at some of the changes this season in Cup:


— Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch has a different look, as he moves from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Tyler Reddick. 

— Tyler Reddick goes from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Kurt Busch, who was injured in a crash last summer and has not returned to competition.

Ryan Preece goes from being a test driver and backup at Stewart-Haas Racing to taking over the No. 41 car formerly run by Cole Custer, who moves to the Xfinity Series. 

— Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson returns to Cup after running the past two seasons in the IndyCar Series. He’s now a part owner of Legacy Motor Club and will run select races for the Cup team. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500, driving the No. 84 car.

Ty Gibbs goes from Xfinity Series champion to Cup rookie for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Noah Gragson goes from Xfinity Series title contender to Cup rookie for Legacy Motor Club (and teammate to Jimmie Johnson).

Crew chiefs

— Keith Rodden, who last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne, is back in that role for Austin Dillon at Richard Childress Racing, as Dillon seeks to make back-to-back playoff appearances. Rodden comes to RCR after working with the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors.

— Chad Johnston, who has been a crew chief for Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth, will serve as crew chief for Ryan Preece at Stewart-Haas Racing.

— Blake Harris goes from being Michael McDowell’s crew chief at Front Row Motorsports to joining Hendrick Motorsports to be Alex Bowman’s crew chief. 

— Mike Kelley, who served as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crew chief when Stenhouse won Xfinity titles in 2011 and ’12, returns to the crew chief role with Stenhouse this season at JTG Daugherty Racing. 


— What’s old is new. The All-Star Race moves to North Wilkesboro Speedway in May, marking the first Cup event at that historic track since 1996.

— July 2 marks debut of the street course race in Chicago, marking NASCAR’s first street race for its premier series.

— The spring Atlanta race and playoff Texas race have both been reduced from 500 miles to 400 miles.


Ross Chastain’s video-game move on the last lap at Martinsville will no longer be allowed, NASCAR announced this week. 

— Stage breaks are gone at the road course events for Cup races. Stage points will be awarded but there will be no caution for the end of the stage.  

— If a wheel comes off a car while on track, it is only a two-race suspension (last year it was four races) for two crew members. The crew chief is no longer suspended for the violation. 

— Cup cars have a new rear section that is intended to absorb more energy in a crash to prevent driver injuries after Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman each missed races last year because of concussion-related symptoms.

— Elton Sawyer is the new vice president of competition for NASCAR. Think of the former driver as the new sheriff in town for the sport.


— With a win this season, Kyle Busch will have at least one Cup victory in 19 consecutive seasons and become the all-time series leader in that category, breaking a tie with Richard Petty.

Denny Hamlin needs two wins to reach 50 career Cup victories. That would tie him with Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 13th on the all-time list. 

Kevin Harvick, running his final Cup season, is 10 starts away from 800 career series starts. That would make him only the 10th driver in Cup history to reach that mark.