Box Score Info:
RACE: NASCAR XFINITY Series; Axalta Faster Tougher Brighter 200
TRACK: Phoenix International Raceway
DRIVER: Erik Jones
CAR: No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry
LAPS: Completed 200 of 200 laps
RACE WINNER: Joey Logano of Penske Racing
- NASCAR’s XFINITY Series entered week four of the 2015 season at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) on Saturday for the Axalta Faster Tougher Brighter 200 race event. Young Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver Erik Jones and the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota team started from row two, a third-place qualifying position run at 134.685mph. The JGR entry ran between third place and ninth-place through the day, battling the car’s changing balance, before bringing home the first top-five finish of Erik Jones’ NASCAR XFINITY Series career.
- Jones entered the race weekend as a substitute driver for regular season veteran and JGR teammate Kyle Busch who sustained a compound fracture of the right lower leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot in an accident during the February 21, NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. No specific timetable has been announced for Busch’s return to the racetrack, but he will be out of a racecar for at least the next several weeks. Jones is slated to drive the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry again on April 24 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
- Saturday’s start was only Jones’ seventh career XFINITY Series race over two seasons. So far Jones has earned one top-five finish, with today’s result, four top-10 finishes and nine laps led. Jones currently averages a 5.3 start and 12.3 finish. While he runs a partial XFINITY Series schedule this season with Joe Gibbs Racing, Jones also competes full time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with team owner Kyle Busch and the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 4 Toyota team.
- Upon taking the green flag Jones and team had concerns of a greasy race track, obviously baked by the hot Arizona sun and changed with rubber from earlier NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice sessions. Jones moved from his third-place starting position to fourth place initially but reported he was happy with the car handling in turns one and two. “Awesome 1-2, have a loose-push thing happening in 3-4,” Jones relayed to crew chief Chris Gayle. Jones also had to contend with lapped traffic that started to become cumbersome as he traversed the one-mile oval. The team prepared plans to adjust the No. 54 Camry at the first pit stop.
- Under caution the team pitted at lap 50 of the 200-lap event, for right side tires and a wedge adjustment. The two-tire stop gave Jones back track position and he restarted the race in second place behind teammate Matt Kenseth. “Set sail up there,” Gayle relayed over the radio, however, Jones was passed by eventual race winner Joey Logano. Jones communicated about the pit stop changes with concern that instead of helping the car to turn better, the adjustments may have ‘taken it out of the race track.’ A few laps later Jones corrected his feedback, “it’s coming back now,” he stated--still in third place. Another pit stop under caution towards the race’s halfway point offered time for the JGR team to make further adjustments to the No. 54 machine.
- Despite the additional car changes, Jones expressed concern for his Toyota’s restart handling. Spotter Tony Hirschman gave input to the young driver, reminding him to readjust his internal brake gauge if needed. “We are out of the race track,” Jones was heard over the radio. One more pit stall visit gave Jones positive adjustments to the handling of his Monster Energy machine. “It took off 100 times better,” Jones stated to his crew chief Gayle who responded, “we had you too free.” Despite the positive outlook on improved car handling and advancement in position from ninth-place to sixth-place the team couldn’t get a grasp on the Camry’s balance. The team had freed up a tight-handling car from early in the race, but freed it up too much, while having concern for handling on restarts. Jones was still able to gain track position and secured a fifth-place finish, his first top-five result in this series.
- Saturday’s XFINITY Series event recorded an average speed of 109.141mph and saw seven lead changes across four drivers. There were four caution periods over 26 laps of the 200-mile event.
- With Saturday’s top-five result the No. 54 Monster Energy team moves from 11th to 9th in NASCAR’s Owner Championship Points Standings, 43 markers behind today’s race winner, the No. 22 of Penske Racing.
- Next week’s NASCAR XFINITY Series competes Saturday, March 21at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Ca. and will be broadcast on Fox Sports1 at 4:00pm EST.