AM Racing announced Wednesday that Bubba Wallace will drive the No. 22 entry in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race Saturday at Martinsville Speedway.
AM Racing tweeted: “In an effort to advance the performance component of our program, we will be putting a different Chevrolet driver in the seat of the No. 22 Chevrolet Silverado for Martinsville Speedway this weekend.”
AM Racing stated that Wallace “has been selected with very specific objectives regarding program feedback and development. His record at the track speaks for itself.”
Wallace, who will be on Wednesday’s NASCAR America (5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN), has two wins in four starts in the Truck series at Martinsville. He won there in 2013 and in 2014. Both times he won driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Austin Wayne Self had driven the No. 22 entry in the first three Truck races of the season. He finished ninth at Daytona and followed that with a 27th-place finish at Atlanta and a 15th-place finish in Las Vegas. He is 12th in the points.
What could be the start of a promising NASCAR career begins tonight at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Jagger Jones, the 16-year-old grandson of legendary racer Parnelli Jones, and son of former NASCAR and IndyCar racer P.J. Jones, will make his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West debut in the Star Nursery 100 (NBCSN will air the race at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday).
The third-generation racer, a junior at Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale, Arizona, has spent his life at racetracks. While he only saw his grandfather race on film, from a toddler on, Jagger Jones watched his father race, then climbed behind the wheel of a go-kart himself at the age of 6.
“I just really fell in love with the sport, and that was it from there,” Jones told NBC Sports. “I grew up at the racetrack, going to the races with my dad and grandpa.
“For me, it’s all I’ve known to do. When I was little, I played with toy cars. When I had dreams, they were about becoming a professional race car driver. I was always influenced by the racing scene, and that’s all I knew, honestly.”
While his grandfather and father spent time in the NASCAR Cup ranks, they’re primarily known for their success in IndyCar and off-road racing. In 1962, Parnelli Jones became the first driver to qualify at more than 150 mph for the Indianapolis 500 and then went on to win The Greatest Spectacle In Racing one year later. He also owned the team when Al Unser Sr. won the 500 in 1970 and 1971, as well as the team that won the 1970-1972 USAC National Championships.
P.J. Jones won IMSA’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 1993 and spent several years in the 1990s racing for one of his father’s best friends: Dan Gurney and his All American Racers. P.J. Jones also achieved noteworthy success in off-road racing and most recently competed in a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen in 2017.
But Jagger Jones is determined to bring the family name back to prominence in NASCAR.
“A lot of people wonder why I chose the NASCAR route and why I didn’t follow my grandpa’s route,” he said. “I know a lot about his past and he raced kind of everything and so did my dad. They both raced a lot of IndyCar, NASCAR and off-road.
“For me, I really admire all that, but I wanted to focus on just one thing, especially at this stage of my career, and I decided to go the NASCAR route. … Always being around him and at the racetrack, for sure, my grandfather has influenced me a lot. He’s been a huge supporter of my racing and he’s always helped out, especially the last few years when I moved up from go-karts to late models.
“My dad has always been a huge help in my career, as well. He’s always supported my racing, of course, and no matter what, he’s always trying to help me with sponsors, with on-track stuff and always trying to put me with the best teams, the best situation. Once I told him I wanted to become a professional race car driver, he’s always supported me and did what he could to further my racing.”
It was seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson that brought Jones to Dale Jr.’s attention.
“I’ve known (Johnson) since I was pretty little, and he’s helped me in my racing career,” Jones said. “We talk every once in a while, which is pretty cool.”
When Jones takes the green flag in tonight’s race, his grandfather’s and father’s legacies will be riding with him.
“It’s all about the desire to win, putting the work in, going out there, knowing you’re the best, that you can do this and you have the desire to win,” Jones said. “We’re not just out here for fun. Sure, you better be having fun, hopefully when you’re racing, but it’s the desire to win that’s going to really take you somewhere in your career … and doing whatever it takes.”
Jones has been looking forward to his K&N debut for the last two years. While a lot of eyes will be on him due to his surname and family pedigree, he’s prepared.
“I just want to go out there and learn,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing I’m going to do and focus on, try to learn in every session, listen to other people and really take advice.”
Jones will drive for the No. 6 Sunshine Ford team that won last year’s K&N Pro Series West championship. He’ll also have Bill Sedgwick, a six-time K&N West champion – twice as a driver (1991-92) and four times as a crew chief (2004-05, 2009 and 2013) – as his crew chief.
“I think 16 is a good age to be moving up into the K&N Series,” Jones said. “Hailie and Todd were about this age when they got their first start with the K&N West.
“People say there’s pressure and I have to perform, that it’s really a big step in my racing career. But for me, if I just do the right things, focus on learning and learning, I think I’ll be fine. I’m not too worried.”
The future will come in time
For Jones, this year’s K&N campaign is a first step toward what he hopes one day will be a move to NASCAR Cup racing. His philosophy is simple: He’ll take things one step at a time. If he enjoys success, promotion to higher series will come naturally.
“There’s a lot of drivers that have come from different backgrounds, different ages and different times, so I don’t think it’s necessary that at 22 you have to be here, at 25, you have to be this or at 18, you have to be here,” he said. “We have a basic plan where we’re doing K&N this year, maybe some ARCA races next year and maybe when I’m old enough, to go to Trucks when I’m 18.
“But really, we just have to play the way the opportunities present themselves, how I’m doing, my experience level, all of that. There’s not a set plan to follow, but definitely a basic outline of how I’m going to get to be racing Sundays full time – within the next seven years I’d say, at the most.”
While Jones’ 85-year-old grandfather won’t be in Las Vegas to watch his grandson, he will be on hand for several upcoming K&N races at tracks closer to his Southern California home. But Jagger’s father, P.J., and mom, Jolaina, will be in Las Vegas, along with Jagger’s 14-year-old brother, Jace, who is taking his older brother’s seat in Late Model racing this season.
“I’m really excited,” Jagger Jones said. “The days have been feeling longer once you get closer to a race just because you’re so anxious. But once you do some laps in practice, I think everything settles, and you have a better idea of where you’re at.
“I’ve only tested a K&N car two times, and that was both on pavement. Now, we go into a dirt race, which I’ve never raced on a dirt oval before. There’s a lot of unknown for me. I’ve been watching a lot of videos and talking with people that ran last year, just trying to get as much experience as I can get and be as prepared as I am.”
Making his own way and own name behind the wheel is on Jones’ radar. He chuckles when asked if his parents named him after Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.
“My dad probably thought of that, but I wasn’t named after him,” Jones said. “It just kind of came about, and they thought it was a cool name, and they went with Jagger Jones. When you have a last name like Jones, you have to have an interesting first name.”
Restrictor-plate racing and crashes have always been tied together, but last weekend’s Daytona 500 saw something that has rarely been seen.
The 36 cars listed in NASCAR’s race report as involved in an accident is believed to be among the most in the event’s 61-year history. Racing Insights, which provides statistics to NBC Sports, listed 37 of 40 cars in accidents — Racing Insights included Corey LaJoie’s car after a tire damaged the front of that car.
The Daytona 500 has been tough on car owners the past three years. An average 32.7 cars (out of a starting field of 40) have been involved in accidents in the race. It is the largest three-year average going back to at least 1980.
Last weekend’s Daytona 500 concluded one of the costliest Daytona Speedweeks for Cup car owners. A total of 60 cars were listed as involved in accidents in practice, the Clash, the qualifying races and the Daytona 500. Since 2010, only one year has seen more Cup cars in crashes during Speedweeks — 2015 when 61 cars were involved.
The 60 Cup cars in a crash in Speedweeks is an increase of 16.7 percent from last year and up 28.3 percent from 2016 and 2017.
Here’s a look at the number of Cup cars listed in a crash during Daytona Speedweeks in recent years:
Even with all the Cup cars in crashes — and 26 trucks in crashes in that race — this year’s Speedweeks saw a decline in the total number of vehicles in incidents. The total for Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series for all of Speedweeks was 88 vehicles. That is down 9.3 percent from last year and 15.4 percent from 2017.
Here is how many vehicles in the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series were listed in a crash throughout Daytona Speedweeks in recent years:
Kevin Harvick has suggested doing away with the Clash, the exhibition race held a week before the Daytona 500. Seventeen of the 20 cars in that race were involved in a late crash. That came a day after a four-car crash in practice. Eliminating that race could be one way to help teams save money.
2. What to expect at Atlanta?
A sampling of what some drivers anticipate this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which features the debut of NASCAR’s new aero package that includes limiting the engines to 550 horsepower at tracks that are 1.33 miles and larger:
Austin Dillon: “I think this year restarts are probably going to be more fire than usual. It’ll be more amped up. I feel like you’ll see guys spread from top to bottom trying to make time, and you’re hoping that your line moves forward. So, it’ll be impressive, I think. Once you get to Atlanta, it’ll be a good show and then Vegas will really be wild on these restarts.”
Jimmie Johnson: “I think when handling comes into play, you’re going to need clean air (at Atlanta). When you’re at Michigan and the tires don’t wear out, you can be in dirty air and it doesn’t affect the car. Same thing I think for Vegas. When you get to Fontana, Atlanta, you’ll have a short window of time to really dice it up, but you need clean air to plant your car on the ground.”
Kyle Larson: “I was excited talking with Erik Jones the other day. He said the top was really fast at Atlanta. I think that there will be a lot of places where now you’ll be able to run the top, but, then again, I think that hurts me because everybody will be able to run the top. I feel that as we’ve taken spoiler away from the cars it’s just made it harder for other people, so it kind of opens up a lane for me up there. So, I think the tracks where I’ve had my own line up around the wall, I think it will be easier for other people to run up there. But it could benefit me more than others. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Martin Truex Jr.: “When we go to Atlanta, it’s going to look a lot different than it did at Charlotte. When we go to California, it’s going to look a lot different. It’s going to be certain tracks it looks one way and certain tracks where it looks another way. There’s no way to make the same exact racing at all the different tracks because they’re just so different. We’ll have to wait and see I think and wait a little while to kind of make a judgment on this thing and what it looks like and whether we’re happy with it or not.”
3. Who to watch?
One of the beliefs from NASCAR has been that even with the new rules package, the best teams still will be expected to race at the front.
If that’s the case, there will be six drivers to watch Sunday at Atlanta — since they were the only drivers to win on a 1.5-mile track last season.
Kevin Harvick, the defending Atlanta victor, won four of the 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks last year. Kyle Busch won three times at such tracks. Winning once at these tracks were Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.
Those six drivers have combined to win the last 17 races on 1.5-mile tracks, dating back to Austin Dillon’s 2017 Coca-Cola 600 win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
4. Looking ahead
Toyota Racing Development driver Chandler Smith, who is 16 years old, will compete in four Truck races for Kyle Busch Motorsports this season.
As a 15-year-old, he won a record four consecutive ARCA poles and won his first race in his fourth series start last year. He will compete in Truck races at Iowa Speedway (June 15), Gateway (June 28), Bristol (Aug. 15) and Phoenix (Nov. 7).
KBM is a key step in the development of several Toyota Racing Development drivers.
Raphael Lessard, 17, will drive in three races for KBM: Martinsville (March 23), Dover (May 3) and Bristol (Aug. 15).
Christian Eckes, 18, started on the pole for the Daytona Truck race but was eliminated by a crash and finished 22nd. He’ll drive six more Truck races for KBM: Gateway (June 22), Pocono (July 27), Las Vegas (Sept. 13), Martinsville (Oct. 26) and two races to be announced.
Of course, Todd Gilliland, 18, is competing for the full season this year after running 19 of 23 races for the organization a year ago, and Harrison Burton, 18, also is running the full season for KBM. Burton ran in eight races for the team last year.
5. Can history repeat?
Kyle Busch will make his 500th career Cup start this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Only twice in the sport’s history has a driver won in their 500th start. Richard Petty did it in 1970 and Matt Kenseth accomplished the feat in 2013.
Now, KBM has gone north of the border for its latest addition to the fold, 17-year-old Canadian teenager Raphael Lessard.
Lessard, a native of Saint Joseph de Beauce, Quebec, is slated to drive the No. 46 Toyota Tundra in three Gander Outdoors Truck Series races for KBM this season: Martinsville (March 23), Dover (May 3) and Bristol (August 15). He turns 18 in July.
“Driving for KBM I will be assured of having one of the best vehicles in the Truck Series and that will allow me to go for the win every time out,” Lessard said in a media release. “KBM is a team of winners, and I intend to take full advantage of the great situation I find myself in.”
The move to Trucks is a promotion for Lessard, who competed for KBM’s Super Late Model Program in 2018. He captured two wins: the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol last May, and the Red Bud 400 ARCA/CRA Super Series race at Anderson (Indiana) Speedway last July.
In 16 combined starts for KBM last season, Lessard recorded two wins, three poles, seven top five and 10 top-10 finishes in 2018 across the CARS Super Late Model Tour, the Southern Super Series and the ARCA/CRA Super Series.
“Raphael was really fast in our Super Late Models last season and added a couple of marquee wins to KBM’s resume,” team owner Kyle Busch said in a media release. “We expect that he’ll be able to step right in and be competitive as he makes the jump to the next level.”
Kyle Busch Motorsports on Tuesday unveiled its crew chief lineup for its three full-time NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series teams in 2019:
* Ryan “Rudy” Fugle will oversee the No. 51 Toyota Tundra. Team owner Kyle Busch will compete in five races, with other drivers yet to be announced for the other races on the schedule.
Fugle has led KBM teams to four owner’s championships in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, as well as driver championships for Erik Jones in 2015 and Christopher Bell in 2017.
In 114 races with KBM, Fugle has called the signals for 22 wins, 20 poles, 57 top fives and 71 top-10 finishes among a variety of drivers. He’s coming off a 2018 season that saw driver Noah Gragson earn one win, a series-leading six poles, eight top fives and 17 top-10 finishes en route to a second-place finish in the series.
* Mike Hillman will serve as crew chief for the No. 18 Tundra and driver Harrison Burton. Hillman is a two-time Truck champion crew chief over 11 seasons. He has earned 22 wins and 19 poles.
Burton has one pole, four top fives and seven top-10 finishes – with an average finish of 6.3 in nine starts with Hillman as crew chief.
* Marcus Richmond will return as crew chief of the No. 4 Tundra and driver Todd Gilliland. Richmond has spent 13 seasons and 265 races as a Truck Series crew chief, collecting 10 wins, 17 poles, 61 top-five and 129 top-10 finishes with six different drivers (Ty Dillon, Noah Gragson, Kevin Harvick, Timothy Peters, Johnny Sauter and Dennis Setzer).
Last season, Richmond’s team — including Gilliland in 19 events and two other drivers — had three poles, 305 laps led, five top fives and nine top-10 finishes.