Brandon Jones

Getty Images

Xfinity set to reach new track winner mark for first time in 22 years

Leave a comment

Unless Joe Nemechek, who hasn’t won a NASCAR Xfinity race since 2004, wins Saturday’s Xfinity event at Atlanta Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on FS1), the series will accomplish something that hasn’t been done since Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s first championship season in the series

A non-Nemechek winner will become the fifth driver to earn their first victory at a track in the opening five races of the season.

They’ll have Brandon Jones to thank.

When Jones passed Kyle Busch with 20 laps to go on his way to a win at Phoenix Raceway last weekend, he kept Busch from claiming his 12th series victory on the 1-mile track.

While it was Jones’ second career Xfinity win, it was his first at Phoenix.

Jones followed Noah Gragson‘s first career win to open the year at Daytona, Chase Briscoe‘s first win at Las Vegas and Harrison Burton‘s first career victory at Auto Club Speedway.

Now here’s where we make you feel old.

The Xfinity Series has not seen a new track winner in each of the first five races of a season since 1998. That year, the first 10 races of the year featured new track winners, including the first career wins of Earnhardt and Matt Kenseth.

The streak is primarily a sign of the times. The trio of Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell, who won 34 of 99 Xfinity races over the previous three seasons, have moved to the Cup Series.

It’s also a result of NASCAR limiting drivers who earn points in the Cup Series to five Xfinity starts a year.

Busch isn’t scheduled to make another Xfinity start until May 23 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with six races between starts. Brad Keselowski also competed in Phoenix, but a Team Penske spokesperson said the team hasn’t solidified the remaining schedule for its No. 12 car.

The streak could continue next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

None of the current full-time Xfinity drivers have won there. Even though Earnhardt is slated to compete in the March 21 race, he hasn’t won there in five career starts.

What’s the next track the Xfinity Series will visit where one of its full-time drivers has already won?

The May 2 race at Dover International Speedway. Justin Allgaier won the spring 2018 race there.

Long: Even with wins, Joey Logano, Paul Wolfe still have work to do

Leave a comment

AVONDALE, Ariz. — One has to wonder when Joey Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe will begin to jell in their new partnership.

They’ve only won two of the four Cup races in their first season together.

Car owner Roger Penske’s decision to switch the driver/crew chief lineup for all three of his Cup teams in the offseason seems to be working about as well as possible.

Besides Logano’s wins, Ryan Blaney could have easily won the first three races and led the points until he was collected in a crash at Phoenix, and Brad Keselowski has three consecutive finishes of 11th or better.

Even with their early success, Logano and Wolfe both say there’s still much work to do to become a dominant team.

“We’ve done a good job executing races,” Logano told NBC Sports in victory lane after he went from 18th to first and led the final 24 laps to win. “Are we as fast as we want to be? No, not yet, but I think we’re a dangerous combination for sure.

“With (Wolfe’s) cars and being able to still be aggressive and do the things I need to do and have some long run speed on top of that, it has been a good combination for us. Nice to win a 550 (horsepower) and 750 race already. It shows we’re close, but we haven’t been the dominant car … in any race this year.”

Logano won at Las Vegas when the leaders pitted before the final restart. Logano, who was third at the time, stayed out, assumed the lead and won. At Phoenix, Logano overcame a pit road penalty and then lost the lead on his final pit stop when the jack broke, dropping him to 18th.

With the debut of the short track package, which included a much smaller spoiler than last season, a tire compound that wore out and the traction compound on the track, Logano was able to get to the front. What also helped was that he and Keselowski had similar setups. Wolfe, who had been Keselowski’s crew chief before this season, used elements of Keselowski’s setup from past years.

In a sign of how Logano and Wolfe continue to learn each other, Logano did not run make a mock qualifying run in practice on Friday. Wolfe said he wanted all the time in the two 50-minute practice sessions focused on “just trying to understand and learn where he wants to be with the setups under our car for race trim.”

Todd Gordon, who went from being Logano’s crew chief last season to be Blaney’s crew chief this season, noted the work that goes into learning a new driver. One such example came at Auto Club Speedway when Blaney had to pit from second place with three laps left because of a tire issue. Blaney finished 19th.

“It’s part of the learning curve that this whole team is going through with the change,” Gordon said recently on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We know each other pretty well but need to learn the little idiosyncrasies of what each driver’s driving style does, what we can and can’t be aggressive on.”

Auto Club Speedway also wasn’t a good race for Logano. He ran well until fading late and placing 12th.

“I’ll tell you what, I was sick to my stomach all week,” Wolfe told NBC Sports. “We didn’t have the performance I wanted at (Auto Club). Obviously (Blaney) was real strong at (Auto Club). We started the race strong but we got off course there. Really to finish 12th was not what we’re capable of where we should be. I didn’t sleep a lot.”

He felt much better after Sunday’s race at Phoenix.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————

When Brandon Jones passed Kyle Busch for the lead with 20 laps to go and went on to win the Xfinity race at Phoenix last weekend, it marked the first time since June 2016 that Busch had been passed so late in a race for the win by a series regular.

Brandon Jones celebrates his Phoenix win. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The last time it happened was when Daniel Suarez passed Busch with two laps to go to win at Michigan.

Jones’ win was as much on the track as off. He went 134 series races before his first victory in October at Kansas. Jones needed only seven races to score his second Xfinity triumph. While there are a number of factors, Jones cites a greater worth ethic as among the keys.

“I kind of came into this year with a mindset of, ‘If I’m not doing it, someone else is doing it,’” the 23-year-old said. “That includes anything outside of this and it includes everything at the track and includes studying and everything. I’m exhausting myself doing it and at the same time, the reward is so big that it doesn’t matter to me. This is what it’s about.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has yet to talk to NASCAR about his penalty for passing below the yellow line in the Daytona 500 but plans to do so before next month’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR penalized Stenhouse, who was running in the top five at the time for going below the yellow line to pass Blaney. A replay showed that Blaney, who was leading the bottom lane, initially blocked Stenhouse but then Stenhouse went lower to make his move.

“I did not want to talk to (NASCAR) right after because I wasn’t really happy about it,” Stenhouse said this past weekend at Phoenix.

“I felt like my move at that point was go left or crash (Blaney), so I went left and gave myself extra room. We had already turned (William Byron) on accident, so I didn’t want to turn somebody else. I gave myself a ton of room and then I had (Kyle Busch) pushing me as well. Trying to give that spot back was kind of difficult.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Two teams placed all their cars in the top 10 Sunday at Phoenix. It marked the first time this season that any team had placed all its drivers in the top 10.

Stewart-Haas Racing had Kevin Harvick place second, Clint Bowyer finish fifth, Aric Almirola place eighth and rookie Cole Custer finish ninth.

“It means a ton, honestly,” Custer said of the top-10 finish. “It’s been pretty tough these first few races of the year. A lot of learning. It just kind of all came together this weekend.”

Chip Ganassi Racing had Kyle Larson finish fourth. Kurt Busch was sixth.

Phoenix winners and losers

Leave a comment

WINNERS

Joey LoganoMade a spirited charge late to rebound from a slow pit stop when the jack broke and then held off Kevin Harvick in an overtime restart to score his second win this season, matching his win total from the 2019 season.

Stewart-Haas Racing — Still winless this season but placed all four cars in the top 10 at Phoenix: Kevin Harvick was second, Clint Bowyer was fifth, Aric Almirola placed eighth and rookie Cole Custer was ninth.

Chip Ganassi Racing — Placed both its cars in the top 10 for the first time this season. Kyle Larson finished fourth and Kurt Busch was sixth. Both had gritty performances.

Brandon JonesPassed Kyle Busch for win with 20 laps left in the Xfinity race. It took Jones 134 races to win his first Xfinity race. He needed only seven races to score his next series win.

MORE: Phoenix race proves tantalizing for title event 

MORE: What drivers said after Phoenix Cup race 

LOSERS

Ryan BlaneyCollected in crash triggered by Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski early in the race and finished 37th. Blaney has had one of the best cars all season but never got to show what he could do at Phoenix.

Martin Truex Jr.If it’s not one thing, it’s another for him and his Joe Gibbs Racing team. He started at the rear for the second consecutive week but worked his way up to the front with the help of his pit crew, which had let him down the past couple of weeks. This time, contact from Aric Almirola put Truex in the wall. Almirola said the contact was unintentional but the damage was enough too ruin Truex’s race. He finished 32nd.

Chase ElliottIn one sense, his seventh-place finish was not satisfying considering how strong a car he had. On the other hand he still scored a top 10 after he had to pit for a loose wheel under green and later hit the wall, slowing his progress. But when one has among the strongest cars, one has to take advantage of the situation.

Denny Hamlin — Last November, Phoenix was magical with a win that put him into the Championship 4. This time, his contact with Brad Keselowski sent him into the wall. While Hamlin continued, the damage kept him from contending and he finished 20th.

Brandon Jones passes Kyle Busch to take Xfinity win at Phoenix

Leave a comment

Brandon Jones passed Kyle Busch with 20 laps to go and held on to win Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Phoenix Raceway.

It was Jones’ second career win in 141 Xfinity starts. His previous win came last October at Kansas.

Busch started from the pole and sought his 12th career Xfinity win at Phoenix. It appeared that he was headed toward that goal, leading a race-high 78 laps, but trailed off in the final 20 laps.

Not only did Jones pass him for the lead, last week’s winner at Fontana, Harrison Burton, also got past Busch and finished runner-up Saturday.

Still, it was some consolation that each of the top three drivers were Toyota drivers for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Brad Keselowski finished fourth, followed by Justin Haley, Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson, Austin Cindric, Ross Chastain and Riley Herbst.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Noah Gragson

RESULTS

DRIVER STANDINGS

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Harrison Burton is on a roll. After winning last week at Fontana, he roared back for a runner-up finish in Saturday’s race. He has scored a top-five finish in each of the season’s first four races. Burton also is atop the Xfinity driver standings after Saturday’s race.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Joe Nemechek had a scary moment with 72 laps to go when his brakes went out, causing Nemechek to hit the wall and sustain moderate damage to the right side of his car. Nemechek finished 32nd. … NASCAR met with Dillon Bassett, Brandon Brown and their crew chiefs for an altercation on pit road after the race. Bassett went to Brown’s car and reached into the car on pit road. The two had made contact on Lap 137 of the 200-lap race.

NOTABLE: This was the 500th win on the NASCAR national level for Toyota.

WHAT’S NEXT: EchoPark 250, Saturday March 14 at 4 p.m. ET, at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Harrison Burton wins first career Xfinity Series race

1 Comment

Harrison Burton held off teammate Riley Herbst to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway and claimed his first career win in the series in his 12th start.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led the final 19 laps under green and beat Herbst by less than half a second.

Burton, 19, is the son of former Cup driver and current NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton. He victory comes after he went winless last year as a full-time driver at Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series.

“So proud of our guys,” Burton told FS1. “All we’ve heard is we can’t do it, we can’t do it. We’ll never do what last year’s 20 (Christopher Bell) did. We’re off to a good start. It’s awesome, it feels so good to win. There’s times when you go through a little bit of a drought, you just doubt yourself. To get a win it feels so good, especially after last year, we struggled a little bit. … Once we moved up to the top at the end it was going to be really hard for (Herbst) to pass us. Just trying to be smart and not put it in the wall while leading.”

The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Ryan Sieg and Justin Haley.

Burton is the second first-time winner in the first three races of the season. Noah Gragson was the first in the season-opening race at Daytona.

Burton led 40 of the race’s 150 laps. After going caution free in the first two stages, there were six cautions in the final stage of the event.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brandon Jones led every lap in the stage and won over Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brandon Jones led every lap in the stage and won over Daniel Hemric

More: Race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Justin Haley finished fifth after he spun from a flat right-rear tire as he tried to enter the pits on Lap 82. Haley’s tire was cut from contact with Anthony Alfredo … Alfredo finished sixth in his first career Xfinity start … Ryan Sieg earned his second straight top five. He has finished in the top 10 in all three races this year.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brett Moffitt triggered a wreck that collected Michael Annett and Brandon Brown on a restart. Annett finished 17th and Brown finished 33rd … On a restart with 54 laps to go, Noah Gragson and Ross Chastain wrecked on the backstretch. Gragson had to check up as he bore down on Alfredo. That resulted in Gragson hitting Chastain and triggering the wreck. Gragson placed 26th and Chastain finished eighth … After leading 16 laps, Chase Briscoe finished 19th after he spun with 25 laps to go.

NOTABLE: Harrison Burton’s win came on Leap Day (Feb. 29). His uncle, Ward Burton, earned his first Xfinity win on Leap Day in 1992 at Rockingham … 20 Years, 2 Months, 12 Days is average age of the top-two finishers, third youngest top-two ever in the Xfinity.

WHAT’S NEXT: LS Tractor 200 at Phoenix Raceway at 4 p.m. ET March 7 on FS1