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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Inside story of the season’s most ‘awesome finish’

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JOLIET, Ill. — Kyle Larson didn’t make the last-lap move on Kyle Busch as he hoped Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

Oh, yes, Larson planned to hit Busch.

Larson just didn’t want to get in front of Busch so quickly.

“I wanted to slide in front of him,” Larson said. “But I knew I would be too tight and have to slow down too much to where he would just probably cross over and drive away from me.

“I did plan to go into there and get into the side of him and slow him down, which I did, but I really didn’t want to clear him before (Turn) 3 because I knew that would give him the opportunity to do that into 3.”

The result was NASCAR’s most exciting finish of the season. Busch repaid Larson for the Turn 2 contact on the final lap by shoving Larson in the rear bumper in Turn 3. That sent Larson into a sprint car slide and Busch into the wall.

Kyle Busch celebrates his win. (Getty Images)

Busch recovered, straightened his car and drove to the finish line to earn his fifth win of the year. Larson skidded to the grass, regained control of his car and finished second for the fourth time this season.

“I thought he was going to pull a slide job,’’ Busch said of Larson’s move in Turn 2. “When he didn’t try to do a slider, then I wasn’t sure what his next move was going to be.

“I was like, ‘Surely he’s not going to drive into the side of me.’ Then he did. After that point … all bets are off.”

Busch bounced off the wall in Turn 2, lost the lead down the backstretch and chased Larson. Busch’s plan was to cut under Larson when Larson slid up in Turn 3. Larson stayed on the bottom.

Busch went to his next option.

“I drove off in there as far as I could and I got into the back of him,” Busch said. “Once I did that, he was kind of sliding loose. I was just trying to get back to the start/finish line after that. It’s kind of a product of once it’s done to you, it’s fair game.”

Larson knew what he was doing when he hit Busch in Turn 2.

“I moved him first,” Larson said. “I can’t be too upset about the move into 3. I opened the door for that. I waved the green flag to run into each other. That was just a fun finish.”

Busch and Larson have had their duels — Busch and Larson have finished 1-2 eight times in Cup and Xfinity with Busch winning each time. The most recent time came in April at Bristol when Busch used a bump-and-run move to get by Larson with six laps to go and win.

“Maybe that’s what he kind of thought he had on me in Turn 2,” Busch said for Larson’s physical move. “If he would have been able to be alongside of me and raced me clean, we would have just raced through 3 and 4 and seen who could have got back to the start/finish line first.

“Once contact is made in a race, it’s kind of like OK, it’s every man for himself. Even me, when we had that race at Bristol and I got into him with (six) to go, I was like, ‘Man I thought I did that too early because he could get back to me.’ He never could get back to me.”

Larson reached Busch on Sunday at Chicagoland with help.

Both he and Busch admit that if it hadn’t been for lapped cars slowing Busch, Larson likely would not have gotten close enough to challenge for the win.

“I don’t know what position they were racing for, but they were racing very hard for it,” Busch said of the lapped cars in the final laps. “They were just side‑by‑side. When that happens, there’s just nowhere for me to go. There’s no clean air. 

“One was on the bottom. I think there was a middle lane kind of open, two on the top. I got by (Ryan) Newman, I got plugged up off of (Turn) 2, lost my momentum. Newman came to the bottom.  We were three‑wide with lapped cars in the backstretch. 

“I couldn’t turn off 3 to the bottom like I would have if he wasn’t there. I don’t think (Ricky) Stenhouse knew that. Stenhouse kind of right reared me, got me steering up the racetrack towards the wall. That killed my rear tires for the next two laps. I was just sliding for dear life. I don’t know if anybody really did anything wrong, let’s say. But there was an awful lot of lap cars that were way more gracious, let’s go with that.”

Larson put himself in position to take advantage of the lapped traffic by running the high line, as he so often does, but with a precision not always seen. While he did clip the wall once late, he constantly ran inches — “a half inch probably at times,” he quipped — without leaving a trace.

“It’s super impressive how close he can enter on the wall and how quickly he can get back to the throttle and have complete control of his car so close to the wall lap after lap,” said Busch’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, about Larson.

“I don’t think there’s ever been anybody that I can recall that’s been able to do that.  I’m sure it’s the dirt track skills and the way he grew up, what he raced growing up. It just speaks to his talent.”

As Larson closed on Busch, car owner Joe Gibbs watched helplessly.

“This is a problem,” Gibbs said watching from pit road.

Kyle Busch (left) and Kyle Larson recount their last-lap duel (Getty Images)

But in this matchup of among the sport’s most talented drivers, Busch prevailed.

After Larson finished describing the “awesome finish,” he walked to the garage stall where the makeshift Victory Lane moved to because of impending rain.

He and Busch talked.

Busch told Larson: “I thought you were going to slide me. I was all ready for that.”

“No, I didn’t have enough room. By the time you got back to my outside, I had no other choice, stall you out, I hit you.”

“You knew it was fair game after that?”

“Yeah, I knew.”

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Joe Gibbs stands behind Erik Jones after three very unusual problems

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A series of unfortunate events cost Erik Jones a lap and contributed to a 19th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but that has not dulled the enthusiasm for the sophomore driver from car owner Joe Gibbs.

“I felt so sorry for him,” Gibbs said in the media center following the race. “And I went down and found him on pit road. I’ll tell you, that young guy – we just think so much of him – Toyota, all of us that’s worked with him. Tonight, he showed the talent that he has. We had three very unusual things happen on pit road and it just destroyed his night.”

The No. 20 Toyota crew had three problems in the pits: Jones had to back up after getting pinned behind another car on a yellow-flag stop; his front tire-changer lost his pit gun after Kasey Kahne ran over his hose entering a stall ahead of Jones’; and an uncontrolled tire violation on Jones’ final stop.

NASCAR America analyst Jeff Burton echoed Gibbs’ opinion about Jones’ potential.

“He just had one of those nights,” Burton said. “He ran good, he had good speed, but nothing worked out for them.

“With speed, everything can be fixed. And the speed they had last night was very good.”

For more, watch the above video.

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs wager on Stanley Cup

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There is division in one of NASCAR’s top teams between Kyle Busch and car owner Joe Gibbs, but it doesn’t have anything to do with performance on the track or any hard feelings between the two. With their favorite teams, the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals, in the Stanley Cup, driver and owner have made a friendly wager on the series between.

Busch said: “My hometown of Las Vegas finally has a team of their own, and guess what: It’s surely didn’t take them long to make it to the championship. Maybe we should put a little friendly wager on the series?”

And with that comment Monday, Busch threw down the gauntlet to Gibbs.

If the Knights win, Gibbs will make a donation to Busch’s charity Bundle of Joy.

“Sounds good; If the Caps win, Kyle makes a donation to Youth for Tomorrow. And Kyle’s got plenty of this,” Gibbs said while making the hand signal for money.

For more, watch the above video.

All-Star Race buzz still has many in NASCAR talking

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The rules package and racing in Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race and Monster Open has many in the sport debating what to do next.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief racing development officer, said Monday on “The Morning Drive” that series officials will meet Wednesday with industry officials to discuss the race and “see where we go from here.”

The Xfinity Series will run a similar package this season at Pocono (June 2), Michigan (June 9) and Indianapolis (Sept. 8) after running it only at Indy last year.

MORE: Transcript of NASCAR’s comments after the All-Star Race

While O’Donnell noted Saturday night that he would “never say never” to running what was used in the All-Star race again later this year in Cup, he said the focus was on 2019 for the package.

Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc., said he would be for running the package in Cup at Kentucky (July 14). Kentucky is the last 1.5-mile track on the schedule before the playoffs begin in September.

“Certainly that track has been a place where R&D for the rest of the sport has happened, and we’d be happy to have it again there,” Smith told NBC Sports about Kentucky. “Any mile-and-a-half track, whether it’s ours or not. My interest is in making the whole sport fantastic, and I think we’ve got great opportunities for that.’’

Car owner Joe Gibbs said after the All-Star Race that more evaluation is needed with the package.

“I think there’s a lot to talk about,” Gibbs told NBC Sports after the race. “I’m sure we’ll make a good decision. Everybody is going to work together. I think (the race) will be something that everybody evaluates and thinks about. I think there’s a lot to it that going forward in the future would be very different. Cars will have a chance to be in the wind tunnel and do all the things that we do with them.”

Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, cautioned Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about a rush to use the package at other tracks immediately.

“You saw the race and as a team member you feel like, wow, there’s something there, but I think we’ve got to be smart about how we roll forward,” he said. “Sometimes that’s going to take more time than I think what our fan base is going to understand, but we’ve got to smart about how we look at this and what we can do with it. I think there’s potential there. If we just implement what we just did, I don’t know if we’re getting all the potential out of it.”

There also was quite a discussion on social media from several in the sport, from spotters and crew chiefs and more, about the racing and what to do next. Here’s what some were saying on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

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