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Erik Jones looking to put together complete races for Joe Gibbs Racing

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After 15 races in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing in the Cup Series, Erik Jones barely gives his No. 20 team a passing grade.

“I’d say our team as a whole is probably a C,” Jones told media Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway while promoting the July 7 Cup race at the track.

“I think we’ve had good race cars and had fast race cars, we just haven’t been able to finish really where we’ve ran,” Jones said. “We haven’t done a good job of that. Making sure we’re closing these races out is going to be the big thing for us. We’re bringing top 10 cars to the track every week in speed and just not taking and getting the finishes out of that.”

Following Sunday’s race at Michigan, where Jones placed 15th, the No. 20 team has one top five and five top 10s. He has one top 10 in the last eight races (Kansas, seventh)

In the last three races, Jones has failed to finish better than 15th.

Jones has started in the top 10 in four of the last seven races. In each race, he finished 13th or worse.

“Making sure we’re taking full advantage and executing on pit road and on the race track, not losing track position is going to be the big thing for us coming up,” Jones said. “Staying on that track is what we need to do.”

The next three races take Jones and the series to Sonoma Raceway, Chicagoland Speedway and Daytona. Jones made his first Sonoma start last year and placed 25th after starting 30th. His first Chicago start saw him finish 33rd after a late spin.

In three Daytona starts, he’s managed not to crash out in one, when he placed ninth in last July’s race.

Being one of the four drivers competing for JGR, Jones was asked what’s made the difference in Kyle Busch‘s dominating ways and his struggles in getting to Victory Lane for the first time.

“Obviously, we do have the same resources and equipment at our disposal, it’s just a matter of the way every team is using them,” Jones said. “You look at Kyle, he’s a very talented driver, No. 1. He’s very good at what he does. He and (crew chief) Adam (Stevens) have a good thing going on and they’re able to use the resources very well and take full advantage of them. Me and (crew chief) Chris (Gayle) are still trying to get in our groove of figuring out exactly what we need to get our cars to do to be successful week in and week out.”

Gayle and Jones were paired together during Jones’ rookie season with Furniture Row Racing.

“We’ve done a good job of putting together cars with good speed,” Jones said. “We just need to put together the rest of the package. That’s what Kyle’s done a very good job of this year. He’s qualified really well, he’s stayed up front, he’s had good pit stops and not ever put himself back in the pack and put himself in opportunities to have to gain a lot of track position. I think that’s really important this year … more than the last few years at least. They’ve done a really good job of just staying ahead of the game on that.”

NASCAR penalizes Joe Gibbs Racing teams for Michigan infraction

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NASCAR fined the crew chiefs for the Joe Gibbs Racing teams of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Erik Jones $25,000 each and suspended their car chiefs each one race.

Joe Gibbs Racing will not appeal the penalties.

NASCAR penalized the teams for inspection issues with the splitter before last weekend’s Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. NASCAR stated the splitters did not meet rule specifications.

The $25,000 fines go to crew chiefs Mike Wheeler (Hamlin), Adam Stevens (Busch) and Chris Gayle (Jones). Car chiefs suspended for a race are Brandon Griffeth (Hamlin), Nate Bellows (Busch) and Jason Overstreet (Jones).

All three teams were forced to start at the rear for Sunday’s race because of the infraction.

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Riley Herbst set for Xfinity debut at Iowa with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Riley Herbst will join Justin Haley this weekend in making his Xfinity Series debut in Sunday’s race at Iowa Speedway.

Herbst, 19, will drive Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota in his only start for the team this season.

Advance Auto Parts will sponsor the car.

A second-year member of the NASCAR Next program, the Las Vegas native has driven for JGR in ARCA the last two seasons, earning one win, nine top fives and 15 top 10s in 27 starts. He was named Rookie of the Year last season.

Herbst’s win came in June 2017 at Pocono Raceway when he triumphed over Brandon Jones, who is now his teammate at JGR.

Sunday’s race marks Herbst’s first start in any of NASCAR’s three national series. He has made 20 combined starts in the K&N Pro Series East and West Series.

“I am super pumped to be making my first top-three NASCAR series start this weekend at Iowa Speedway,” Herbst said in a press release. “We are coming into the week with expectations of learning every single lap, in hopes of having our Toyota Camry up front by the end of the race. Iowa is a super cool track with a lot of racing lines so should be a great weekend for this No. 18 team.”

Herbst has one start at Iowa in a combined K&N West and East race. He started fifth and finished sixth in July 2016.

JGR has won three of the last four Xfinity races at Iowa with Sam Hornish Jr., Erik Jones and Ryan Preece.

Kyle Busch leads non-Ford drivers at Michigan in fourth

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Kyle Busch was the only driver not piloting a Ford to finish in the top eight Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

Thanks to rain cutting the race short by 67 laps, Busch ran out of time have a say in the outcome of the FireKeepers Casino 400.

But with a fourth-place finish, Busch earned his best finish at the 2-mile track since five years ago (when  he also placed fourth).

The result came after he and two of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates had to start from the rear due to issues with their splitters in prerace inspection. Busch had qualified third.

“The blue ovals were just tough today,” Busch said of the Fords. “They go down the straightaway really, really fast. We have a hard time keeping up with them there, but our car through the corner was really awesome. The M&M’s Camry was really good there after yesterday’s practice. I thought we had something for them and if it was going to be a little bit hotter and sunnier today, I felt like we were going to be really good. That just wasn’t the conditions for today, so chilly and cool and lots of grip and that was better for all those guys, but we gave it a hard fought fight and come home with what we could there.”

Busch, who leads the point standings through 15 races, wasn’t able to reach the top 10 in Stage 1 but placed fourth in Stage 2.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver thought he had the car to finish third until his brother Kurt Busch “blew my doors off” on the final short run before rain arrived.

Busch’s finish was his 10th top five this season.

“(Crew chief) Adam Stevens and myself and our team and our organization, we did our job, so all we can do is keep trying and keep getting better, keep trying to bring home a good fight,” Busch said. “It doesn’t matter how sharp your knife is. You ain’t going to beat a gun fight.”

Three Joe Gibbs Racing cars starting from rear due to inspection failure

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Three Joe Gibbs Racing cars will start from the rear in today’s Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway because of inspection problems.

The Toyotas of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones will start from the rear because their splitters were replaced after being found to be noncompliant. There could be further penalties this week.

Busch had qualified third, Jones qualified eighth and Hamlin qualified 10th.