Joe Gibbs Racing returns to New Hampshire, where dominance began last July

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The 2017 Cup season was not too kind to Joe Gibbs Racing through its first 18 races.

Then the series went to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

After entering last year’s July event at the 1-mile track winless, the race served as a launching pad for JGR, which leads the series in every major stat category in the 36 races since.

Counting Denny Hamlin‘s win in the July 16 race, the four-car team has won 14 times in the following year, which leads all other teams by five victories.

JGR closed out 2017 with eight wins in 19 races, compared to the Martin Truex Jr.‘s six wins in the same span.

Thanks to Racing Insights, here’s a look at JGR’s success against the competition since last July’s race at New Hampshire.

Ten of JGR’s wins in the last year belong to Kyle Busch, including the September playoff race in New Hampshire.

The rest belong to Denny Hamlin (two wins), Matt Kenseth (one) and Erik Jones (one).

Busch is one of six active drivers who have three wins at New Hampshire, including Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Hamlin and Kenseth.

Kyle Busch is the only one of those drivers with a win this season.

New Hampshire has been very kind to Busch and his fellow Toyota drivers.

In the last 11 races at the flat, 1-mile track, Toyota has won eight of them. In the last four races in Loudon, Toyota has led 1,168 laps (97.2 percent) out of a possible 1,202 laps. Chevrolet has led 31 and Ford has led 3.

Chevrolet has the only non-Toyota win in the last six New Hampshire races. That was won by Kevin Harvick in 2016 before Stewart-Haas Racing moved to Ford.

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Erik Jones, Martin Truex Jr. benefitting from surviving Daytona

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It took until July, but it seems Erik Jones has finally found his footing at Joe Gibbs Racing.

And the 22-year-old driver is somewhat keeping pace with one of the members of the “Big Three.”

Thanks to them surviving the carnage at Daytona, Jones – who won the race – and Martin Truex Jr. are the only Cup drives enjoying active streaks of top-10 finishes.

With Truex’s win and Jones’ seventh-place finish on Saturday at Kentucky Speedway, they each have four consecutive top 10s.

The streaks began with the June 24 race at Sonoma, which Truex also won.

Jones’ Kentucky finish came after he radioed his team multiple times during the race about his concerns that his engine might blow up.

Jones needs two more top 10s to match his streak of six last season during his rookie campaign at Furniture Row Racing. That streak started at the July race at Pocono and ended with the regular-season finale at Richmond.

Here’s a look at the best top 10 streaks this season among drivers with nine or more top 10s (Jones and Ryan Blaney have nine).

Kyle Busch (15 top 10s) – Steaks of eight and six consecutive top 10s; current streak: one top 10

Kevin Harvick (15 top 10s) – Streaks of three, seven and four top 10s; current streak: one top 10

Joey Logano (14 top 10s)  – Streaks of three, six and two top 10s; Currents streak: one top 10

Martin Truex Jr. (13 top 10s) – Steaks of five and four (twice) top 10s; Current streak: four top 10s

Kyle Larson (11 tops 10s) – Streaks of four and two (twice) top 10s; Current streak: one top 10

Brad Keselowski (11 top 10s) – Steaks of three and two (twice) top 10s; Current streak: one top 10

Clint Bowyer (10 top 10s) – Streaks of four and three top 10s; Current streak: none

Kurt Busch (10 top 10s) – Streaks of four and two top 10s; Current streak: one top 10

Denny Hamlin (10 top 10s) – Streaks of three and two (three times) top 10; Current streak: none

Erik Jones (nine top 10s) – Streaks of four and three tops 10s; Current streak: four top 10s

Ryan Blaney (nine top 10s) – Streaks of three and two tops 10s; Current streak: one top 10.

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Friday 5: No panic for Chase Elliott in battle for playoff spots

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SPARTA, Kentucky — Chase Elliott is quick to point out that he doesn’t feel helpless, but he knows that he and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates face challenges to secure playoff spots in the final eight regular-season races.

Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson, Elliott and Alex Bowman hold what would be the final three playoff positions, heading into Saturday night’s race at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Johnson has a 54-point lead on Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — the first driver outside a playoff spot. Elliott leads Stenhouse by 37 points and Bowman leads Stenhouse by 19 points.

“I think that we certainly have room to improve, and I think we have improved from where we started the season,” Elliott said earlier this week after unveiling the tribute throwback scheme he’ll run in the Southern 500.

“There’s been some weeks where we end practice on Saturday and we’re not in the same league as some people. What you have to do is go make the most of what you got. At the end of the day that’s sometimes the best thing. It’s easy to overreach sometimes and get yourself in more trouble than what you could have done if you just had done what you had in front of you.”

That could be an easy trap to fall in.

Hendrick Motorsports, an organization that measures success by championships, has gone nearly a year since its last Cup victory.

Jimmie Johnson is on a career-long winless streak of 41 races and Elliott seeks his first career Cup win as he nears 100 career starts. Teammate Alex Bowman makes his 100th start this weekend and looks for his first Cup win, although many of his starts were with underfunded teams, and William Byron is in his rookie season.

Elliott had scored eight consecutive finishes of 12th or better before he placed 19th at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago and then finished 34th at Daytona after he was eliminated by an accident.

“You can’t wig out over it,” Elliott said. “It is what it is. I had no control over the crash on Saturday night. Chicago, yes I thought I could have done a better job at the end of that race to improve our finish, sure, but this past Saturday night I don’t know what I would have done to keep that from happening. That stuff happens. Once we fall out of a  race I can’t control anything beyond that.”

2. Class by themselves

Moments after exiting a boiling car at the completion of 400 miles at Chicagoland Speedway, Brad Keselowski sat on the pit wall and wiped sweat from his face with a towel as Kyle Busch celebrated another victory.

Busch’s win two weeks ago continued a trend that has seen Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. dominate. They have won 13 of the first 18 Cup races this season and the last 12 races on 1.5-mile speedways, dating back to last year.

“It’s like there’s an A, B, C, D group,” Keselowski said of ranking the teams. “We’re in the B group. We want to go from good to great.”

He noted then that they were behind Truex, Busch and the Stewart-Haas Racing cars.

“I think the difference, as you look at those cars, they have more speed and you don’t see their mistakes because they’ve got speed to recover from it,’’ Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, said after the Chicago race. “We’ve got to keep working on trying to find more speed in our cars.

Busch admitted his car was awful the first two stages at Chicagoland before hitting on the right changes and taking the lead on pit road.

Clint Bowyer showed how fast the Stewart-Haas cars are — Gordon said Bowyer’s car at Chicago was “stupid fast” — by finishing fifth after two speeding penalties and a third trip down pit road when he did not serve a stop-and-go penalty on his second speeding infraction.

That’s not a luxury most of the field has. They have to be perfect.

That’s the challenge Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Kentucky Speedway for many teams.

3. Ruh-roh

That seems to be the common theme about the road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway (or Roval as some call it) after some teams tested there Tuesday.

Tight turns, minimal run-off areas before hitting walls or tire barriers, and the race being the cutoff event in the first round of the playoffs, should make for a wild afternoon of racing.

What that race will do, though, is put more pressure on teams to do well in the first two races — Las Vegas and Richmond — in the opening round. Have poor finishes at either of those races and be toward the bottom of the playoff standings will only add pressure on drivers at Charlotte in the Sept. 30 event.

Another key factor will be how many playoff points drivers have. That could make the difference in advancing from the first round if the race is as chaotic as some forecast.

The rest of the Cup field is scheduled to test on the Charlotte road course Tuesday.

4. Gauntlet thrown

After Ben Rhodes’ Camping World Truck Series win Thursday night at his home track of Kentucky Speedway, ThorSport Racing General Manager David Pepper had a warning to competitors.

“With five races to go in the regular season, leading into the playoffs,” Pepper said, “the rest of these teams need to look out for ThorSport. We’re going to be a factor.”

Along with Rhodes giving the team its first win of the year Thursday, ThorSport’s Matt Crafton finished third and Grant Enfinger placed sixth. ThorSport’s Myatt Snider crashed in qualifying and never had a chance to do much in his backup.

GMS Racing’s Johnny Sauter has won a series-high four times and Hattori Racing Enterprises’ Brett Moffitt has three wins.

5. Drivers to get their first win while at Joe Gibbs Racing

Erik Jones is the fifth driver to score his first career Cup victory while at Joe Gibbs Racing. He joins Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.

Labonte’s first win came in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600. Stewart’s first win was in the September 1999 Richmond race. Hamlin’s first win was in the June 2011 Pocono race. Logano’s first victory came in June 2009 at New Hampshire.

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Erik Jones’ first Cup win fueled by father’s Corvette

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At the age of 20, Erik Jones lost his father to cancer. At the age of 53, Dave Jones lost his life. More tragically, he lost the opportunity to watch his son race full time in the Cup series. He was not present to watch the sophomore driver win his first Cup race in his 57th start Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway – two years and one month to the day of his father’s passing.

Dave was diagnosed with lung cancer early in 2016 and an aggressive form of the disease took him three months later on June 7.

A piece of Dave lives on with his son’s career – a career that would not have happened without sacrifices to give Erik the best equipment possible during his formative days as a late model racer.

One of these sacrifices was a blue 1965 Corvette.

After winning the Coke Zero Sugar 400, Jones recalled the day his dad first sold the car.

“I was, I don’t know, maybe 12 or 13. We were just trying to get into late model racing around that time, whenever it was, and my dad was in the car business, specifically Corvettes at the time or selling reproduction parts and doing restoration, and he had bought a Corvette of his own when I was maybe five or six years old.

“One day he came home, and he had sold the car, and I was like, ‘man, why did you do that,’ and he’s like, ‘well, we’ve got to fund the racing somehow.’”

MORE: Erik Jones wins in overtime at Daytona

The relationship between Dave and Erik is an integral part of what makes Erik so special to his car owner Joe Gibbs and Toyota.

“I asked (Dave) one time if he raced,” Gibbs said following the race. “He said, ‘no, Erik just said, I want to do this.’”

That was enough for Dave to commit to his son’s dream.

“He was so supportive, and (his death) was just a horrible thing,” Gibbs continued. “It was just terrible. So that’s a part of Erik, I think, winning tonight. I think obviously it’s an emotional thing for him because his dad would have absolutely loved it.”

The early sacrifice paid dividends almost immediately. While Dave did not get chance to see Erik’s first Cup win, there was plenty that he did get a chance to witness.

A couple of years after the sale of the Corvette, Jones grabbed Kyle Busch‘s attention by beating him in the 2012 Snowball Derby, along with Chase Elliott and David Ragan. The next year, Busch hired Jones to race in his No. 51 late model. Jones won back-to-back Snowball Derbies as well as several other high-profile late model races that year.

Dave was there to see his son race for Busch in the Truck series. The pair won in their first season together in 2013. Jones went on to win six more Truck races and the 2015 championship. Dave saw Erik win four of his nine Xfinity races for Gibbs.

Six months after his father’s death, Jones tracked down the Corvette and repurchased it.

“That wasn’t the only thing that was sold along the way, and things that were – chances that were taken financially to get me to this point,” Jones continued. “But I was able to buy that car back actually about a year and a half ago, and that was pretty cool, same car, so that was pretty neat to get that back. I always wanted to give it back to him, but it sure feels good to have it in my hands now. … I definitely wish he could have been here to see this one.”

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Daniel Suarez details ‘long, expensive process’ to obtain U.S. residency

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JOLIET, Ill. – When Daniel Suarez officially is granted U.S. residency, the arduous, long process will have been worth every penny, because he will have spent many of them.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver from Monterrey, Mexico, estimates the cost of application, attorney and filing fees at $15,000 since he began his journey 18 months ago to obtain U.S. residency (also known as a green card, it allows for living and residing permanently in the country).

“I think now that I’m living that process, I understand why a lot of people don’t do it and do it the difficult way because it’s extremely expensive, extremely long,” Suarez said Saturday morning at Chicagoland Speedway. “A lot of people will imagine that for me — I’m here and I pay taxes and everything — that it would be easier, but it’s a pain in the butt to do it, and it’s extremely expensive. I can guarantee a lot of people cannot pay for that and cannot afford it.”

Suarez, 26, began racing in the United States in 2011, making seven K&N East starts after starting 14 races in the NASCAR Mexico Series from 2009-10.

He said he had a visa for “special talents” that required renewal every three years in his hometown, so he elected to pursue the green card. Suarez said he couldn’t leave the United States for six months while awaiting final approval and described it as in “the last details of the process. I don’t know if it’s been like that forever or not, honestly I don’t know, but at least today it’s long and expensive.

“Just a rough number, I’ve spent around $13-14,000 counting attorneys that have been helping me. I’ve paid extra in a couple things to actually make it faster, but it wasn’t maybe another thousand dollars and even with that it’s been over a year. I don’t think the average people coming to this country has just $10,000 to spend in (getting) a green card. I feel like it’s a lot of money, but I guess that’s why a lot of people don’t do it because it’s just too expensive and a long process.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security website, among those eligible to apply for green cards are “first preference immigrant workers” with “extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.”

Green card holders are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship after five years.