joe gibbs racing

With an inadvertent but legal deke, Erik Jones rallies for third

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LOUDON, N.H. – With critical points hanging in the balance for a playoff bid, Erik Jones thought he screwed up Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Instead, he inadvertently might have stumbled across a new strategy for keeping opponents guessing on pit stops.

During the final caution with 35 laps remaining, Jones swerved to the right back on the racing surface at the last minute, driving over the pit lane commitment box.

Jones began fuming over the team radio, but he eventually was informed there would be no penalty from NASCAR, which changed its rule governing pit entry over the past two seasons. Drivers with four tires below the boundary must enter the pits; Jones had only his left-sides below.

Two tires below once would have committed a car to the pits at tracks such as New Hampshire and shorter, and that caused some confusion on Twitter (NASCAR senior vice president Steve O’Donnell clarified the call).

But it raises an interesting point: Should every driver who is committed to staying on track fake a move to the pits by rolling over the commitment box as Jones did?

“I don’t think NASCAR would appreciate that very much, and I’m glad we didn’t get a penalty,” Jones said with a smile. “But it’s definitely an interesting situation. I forgot (what) the rules actually said, and I think many people probably were surprised by that.

“So I think you might see some more faking out. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Crew chief Chris Gayle was sure Jones would escape punishment after he watched the replay and saw the No. 20 Toyota had at least two wheels above the inside boundary.

“I was like, ‘Oh, we’re good,’ because you’ve got to have all four below the box, and he kind of split it,” Gayle said. “I think he didn’t think about it. They say it in the driver’s meeting all the time now, and you’ve got to pay attention, but most everywhere it’s all four below the orange box.”

After restarting in second behind race winner Kevin Harvick, Jones hung on for third behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin and punctuated a race in which he overcame contact with two drivers and a speeding penalty.

He started fourth and catapulted into the lead with a two-tire call by Gayle on Lap 48. Jones finished second in the first stage and then made contact with Alex Bowman’s No. 88 Chevrolet while exiting his pit stall on Lap 111. That necessitated another stop dropping him to 28th as the last car on the lead lap.

“We had contact here on pit road (in the 2017 race), and it ended our day, blew a tire on the restart, so we couldn’t risk that,” Jones said. “We couldn’t have a DNF, so coming down to fix it was the right thing to do. We had to make that right and put ourselves back out there, but it was up and down.”

While battling through the field 20 laps later, Jones made contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who brought out a Lap 138 yellow by hitting the wall with a flat tire from the damage. Jones incurred a speeding penalty entering the pits during the caution.

But he restarted in 11th and steadily marched forward during the second half. He was in fifth when the yellow flew the last time, allowing Gayle to keep his car on track and restart beside Harvick.

“That was the good thing,” Jones said. “The (car) had enough speed to get back up there and get in contention. I think at the end with some clean air, we could be in (Harvick’s) spot, I think we were just as fast as him there the run before, so we have to keep putting ourselves up there, and eventually it’s going to work out, but a good testament to our team, just the way we came back today.”

With six races remaining in the regular season, he is ranked 14th and is 28 points above the cutoff line after entering New Hampshire in 16th with only a two-point cushion. But when other bubble drivers had trouble Sunday, it made Gayle’s strategy decisions simpler.

“It wasn’t as bad today because you start seeing other guys having problems that we were racing in the points,” Gayle said. “So when they all started having trouble, and we’re at the back, I’m like OK, this makes it a little bit easier. We can just do something and go for the win here at the end.”

Jones seems on the verge of a win after finishing third in four of the past nine starts.

With contract talks at JGR progressing well, the only cloud on the horizon might be Stenhouse, who vowed payback against Jones between and the playoffs.

“I guess go ahead,” Jones said when told of Stenhouse’s threat. “He was racing me really hard and for nothing. We were 200 laps to go in the race, and he had the choice of lifting and letting me go, and he didn’t do it for five laps, and that’s just how it is.

“If you’re going to race hard, you’re going to get raced hard. I didn’t want to have to do it, but sometimes it comes down to it. I like Ricky, but he races really hard. I expect it. If I’m going to race Kevin Harvick at the front of the field like that 10 laps in a row, I’m going to get wrecked. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to keep moving forward and keep giving yourself a good day.”

Harrison Burton, Paul Menard exchange words after trading hits

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LOUDON, N.H. – There’s a 20-year gap between Paul Menard and Harrison Burton and seemingly just as wide a gulf in how they viewed their incident Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Burton, 18, finished 29th in the Xfinity Series race after being wrecked by Menard, 38, with 45 laps remaining.

Parking his No. 18 Toyota after completing 169 of 200 laps, Burton waited for more than 20 minutes until the race ended and then strode purposefully from the entrance of the Xfinity garage to the pits and confronted Menard for a terse but civil conversation.

“I wanted to get across to him that I got wrecked for no reason,” said Burton, who competes full-time in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and was making the third start of his Xfinity career and the first on a track at least a mile in length. “I barely touched him. There’s barely a mark on his door. I don’t know if he’s heard of NASCAR before, but this isn’t F1 where if you touch someone, there’s a 5-second penalty.

“I barely touched him, and I got wrecked. He says that I got into him on the restart. I’m on the apron, and he comes down across my nose and then gets mad about it. When he watches the film, I think he’ll see that. I think that we just worked our butts off and didn’t get the result we deserve. We’ll just come back and race harder and beat him next time.”

Menard said he was justified to tap Burton in the left rear and spin the Joe Gibbs Racing driver into the Turn 1 wall.

“He ran into me a couple of times,” said the driver of the No. 12 Ford for Team Penske. “So I voiced my displeasure. He’s a young kid. He’s got a long time in this sport. He’s got to figure that stuff out pretty early. As he races more in Xfinity, and especially if he gets to the Cup level, they don’t put up with that stuff. I felt it was my place to tell him that’s not cool.

“A lot of these kids are good clean racers. He kind of stood out from the crowd. He had a fast enough car he could have been clean. I hate tearing up race cars. I didn’t really want to tear up his race car, that’s for sure. But sometimes enough is enough.”

Menard singled out Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson, both in their early to mid-20s, for having raced him cleaner than Burton.

“Some of these kids are really fun to race with, and some of them just don’t get it,” said Menard, a veteran of 14 seasons in the Cup series who was teamed with Burton’s father (and NASCAR on NBC analyst), Jeff, for three seasons at Richard Childress Racing. “So I think you have to cut that shit out at an early age.”

“Some of these kids have a lot of talent and don’t have to run into you to try to pass you. Harrison, I’ve never met the kid before. I know his dad really well. I’ve got a lot of respect for Jeff. Really good man. But the kid ran into me a couple of times, and that was enough of that.”

Though he had the chance to air his grievances, Burton was skeptical it would make any difference with how Menard would race him in the future.

“He doesn’t care,” Burton said. “He doesn’t care about anyone else but himself. But I’m going to just go out and beat him on the racetrack like I was going to today. I was driving away from him. I was gone.

“We were going to beat him on the racetrack, and that’s all you can do is just beat people on the racetrack and show them you’re going to outwork them. I’m fired up and ready to go for the next one.”

Erik Jones ‘close’ to re-signing after meeting with Joe Gibbs this week

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LOUDON, N.H. – After meeting with team owner Joe Gibbs this week, Erik Jones believes he finally is “close” to signing an extension with the team after a few months of negotiations.

“We’ve had some good meetings, positive meetings, so we’re moving in the right direction,” Jones said during Friday afternoon’s qualifying session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I’d love to get it done here soon. We’ve had good meetings between my guys and JGR. I’ve had good meetings with Coach talking about it and moving forward. I know I keep saying it, but I feel like we’re pretty close to getting it done.”

The uncertainty for the 2020 season seemingly has been no distraction in 2019 for Jones, who believes he is close to ending a yearlong winless streak. He has notched six top 10s in the past nine races to move into the 16th and final provisional spot for the playoffs with seven races remaining in the regular season.

The Byron, Michigan, native said he told Gibbs “I want to get (the extension) done. We both want to get it done and move forward and stop worrying about it and stop focusing on it, but we’re close. Hopefully here soon.”

An extension for Jones would mean JGR has a full lineup of four drivers signed for 2020 and shift the focus to what is next for Xfinity driver Christopher Bell, who is under contract to JGR next season.

“I think you know as much as I do,” Bell said Friday morning when asked about what series he will race next year. “Actually, you probably know a little bit more than I do. Ultimately, it’s not up to me. I can’t make the decisions, so I’m just along for the ride.”

Bell indicated his desire to move to Cup last season, and a Leavine Family Racing Toyota could be an option if JGR wants to farm him out for 2020 in NASCAR’s premier series.

“I learned early on in my career that a race car driver is only as good as the equipment,” Bell said. “I definitely want to make sure that I’m in equipment that can win.”

Bump and run: How to view Justin Haley’s Daytona win

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How do you view Justin Haley’s victory at Daytona?

Dustin Long: Every team running at that point had the same opportunity so congrats to Haley and his team for pulling it off. It’s understandable how some might feel a little empty because of how Haley rode at the back to protect his car. That also leads to the issue of how the team, Spire Motorsports, competes. It’s a small operation with limited resources. Not every team can start as a multi-car operation. Again, they played by the rules that were there for everyone and won. And I don’t want to hear anything about how NASCAR should have put Kurt Busch back in the lead because they gave the signal of one to go and then lightning struck within the 8-mile radius shortly after he gave up the lead to pit. Want to give Busch the lead back? Go invent a time machine and change history. Until you do so, Justin Haley won fair and square.

Daniel McFadin: It’s a nice, inexplicable oddity. It has no impact on the season-long narrative outside of taking away a chance for a Cup regular to win and get in the playoffs. It also makes sure everybody will remember the last July race at Daytona.

Jerry Bonkowski: Another feel-good story for the season. NASCAR can never have too many of those. While I’m happy for Justin, though, I’m worried that he may be labeled going forward as only winning because the race was rain-shortened, much like Aric Almirola‘s and Chris Buescher‘s first career Cup wins. Still, it was great to see how a small team beat the big boys. 

Nate Ryan: It’s a feel-good story, but we probably won’t know how good we really will feel about it until a few years from now. Will it be remembered as the start of something big for Haley and Spire Motorsports, or just a miraculous confluence of circumstances that produced an unbelievable blip during a season with a roster of overly familiar winners that can best described as rote? In the short term, the win has no legs because neither Haley or the team is making the playoffs. What driver and team are able to accomplish over the long term — and in the team’s case, there are valid questions about viability — will factor into how Sunday’s win ultimately is viewed.

If a driver is ineligible for a playoff spot that would come with a victory — as happened with Justin Haley’s win at Daytona — should NASCAR award that playoff spot to the first eligible driver? Should that be considered for Cup only because of the rarity of the situation or all three national series, if at all?

Dustin Long: No. Doing so tarnishes the “win and you are in” mantra. Don’t make such silly changes.

Daniel McFadin: I don’t think so. The only time a second-place finisher should be given a playoff spot is if the winner is disqualified. 

Jerry Bonkowski: No, a playoff spot should not be awarded to the first eligible driver. In the whole big scheme of things, those still vying for a playoff spot on points have really not lost (or gained) much with Haley’s win, given that he is ineligible for the Cup playoffs. Those drivers vying for the playoffs still have to be there at the end after Indianapolis. I can’t see how Haley’s win will cost anyone a playoff spot. And no, it should not be considered for all three national series. The rule is the rule; it’s not broken, so don’t try to “fix” it.

Nate Ryan: Only a win should guarantee a berth. But it’s deflating to have an ineligible winner in a race such as this that’s billed as one of the best hopes for an underdog to make the playoffs.

Does it matter to you that Daytona is moving from its traditional weekend on or near July 4 to August next year to be the regular-season finale?

Dustin Long: No. Next question.

Daniel McFadin: I’m all for the change. If a track has two races, both of them can’t be sacred just because of where they fall on the schedule. Making it the regular-season finale raises the intensity of the summer Daytona race and gives it more significance than it ever had, which is saying a lot given how frenetic the racing was Sunday. Also, hopefully, the move provides more consistent weather for racing.

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes it does bother me. There is so much history and tradition of the Independence Day weekend that has been built around Daytona. It’s not going to have the same feeling in late August next year. Plus, even though restrictor plates are gone, I question having a race that decides the final 16-driver playoff field using tapered spacers — which to me is like a plate by another name — be an event that weighs so heavy on who will or won’t make the playoffs.

Nate Ryan: It was a long overdue change (underscored again by the events of last weekend) to end the practice of racing Daytona on a Saturday night in early July. Making a wild-card race the regular-season cutoff is also an extremely smart play. It’s sad to sever the track’s holiday tradition, but it’s outweighed by the benefits, and the lack of community uproar (the Volusia County tourism industry is happy about having adding a busy weekend; people will still visit the beach July 4) confirms it’s a good call.

Two months remain until the playoffs begin. What will be you be watching in the coming weeks?

Dustin Long: I’m looking for the team to emerge that can challenge the Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske cars. I want to see if Kevin Harvick and his team can put away the issues that have hindered them and go on a run of winning races. I also want to see how Hendrick Motorsports progresses and if Jimmie Johnson in particular can become a contender.

Daniel McFadin: I’m interested to see how much Joey Logano can flex his muscles. He’s the point leader yet he only has two wins. He’s putting together an effective defense of his Cup title.

Jerry Bonkowski: How Stewart-Haas Racing evolves, whether Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have noticeable fall-offs, if drivers who are getting close (like William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson) will finally break through with wins that boost them into the playoffs, and whether there may be another Justin Haley- or Ross Chastain-like surprise winner in any more races in the three national event series.

Nate Ryan: How many positions will be determined by points and the margins around the bubble. This is shaping up as possibly the fiercest and tightest cutoff battle yet since the 16-driver championship field was introduced in 2014.

Sunday’s Cup race at Daytona: Start time, lineup and more

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Let’s try this again. The Cup Series will run today at Daytona International Speedway after rain postponed the race from Saturday night. The race will be on NBC (1 p.m. ET).

After qualifying was cancelled Friday due to weather, the field was set by owner points. Joey Logano will start from the pole and be joined by Kyle Busch on the front row.

Will today’s race see the dominance of Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing continue? Is today the day a new winner emerges?

Here’s all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given 12:52 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1:04 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 10 a.m. Driver introductions are at 12:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 12:43 p.m. The National Anthem will be performed at 12:44 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 160 laps (400 miles) around the 2.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 50. Stage 2 ends on Lap 100.

TV/RADIO: NBC will televise the race. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. The Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 86 degrees at the start of the race. There is a 42% chance of scattered thunderstorms.

LAST TIME: Erik Jones won his first career Cup race after a last-lap pass of Martin Truex Jr.

TO THE REAR: William Byron (backup), Kyle Larson (unapproved adjustments), Justin Haley (unapproved adjustments), Brendan Gaughan (unapproved adjustments), Joey Gase (unapproved adjustments), Matt DiBenedetto (unapproved adjustments), BJ McLeod (unapproved adjustments).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.