Box Score Info:
RACE: NASCAR XFINITY Series; ToyotaCare 250
TRACK: Richmond International Raceway
DRIVER: Erik Jones
CAR: No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry
LAPS: Completed 250 of 250
RACE WINNER: Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing
- NASCAR’s XFINITY Series entered week eight of the 2015 season at Richmond International Raceway (RIR) on Friday for the ToyotaCare 250 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 122.984mph. The JGR entry ran between third place and sixth place through the night, battling the car’s changing balance, before bringing home a fourth-place result, Jones’ fifth top-five finish in five weeks.
- Eighteen-year old 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 race car for at least the next several weeks.
- Saturday’s start was only Jones’ 11th career XFINITY Series race over two seasons. To date as a part-time XFINITY series driver in 2015 Jones has earned one win, five top-five finishes, five top-10 finishes, three poles and 90 laps led. Jones currently averages a 3.8 start and 8.9 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 began communicating similar feedback as what the team recorded earlier in the day during initial practice sessions. They wanted to turn or ‘roll’ the car better though the turns. Jones maintained his third-place starting position, despite fighting lapped traffic, until the first yellow-flag period waved at lap 48. “The car’s neutral, I’m pretty happy,” Jones reported. He continued, “It’s great in turns one and two, turns better in three and four. I don’t want to kill the entry.” With that the team visited pit road but made minimal air pressure adjustments to the right front tire, and they took four fresh tires and more Sunoco fuel.
- Jones restarted under the green flag at lap 55 and immediately battled with the No. 33 but maintained his third-place position and stretched out the distance between himself and the closest competitors. Spotter Tony Hirschman over the radio relayed, “You’re clear by ten, still stretching it out, whatever you need here to learn, it’s all good.” Slightly before the race's halfway point, track temperatures began to cool and the track surface ‘rubbered in’ which caused the No. 54 machine’s balance to transition more towards a loose-handling drive. Jones advanced to second place around this time but communicated his concern for the growing ‘loose’ handling.
- A second yellow-flag period and the team visited pit road. Jones and his crew chief knew the No. 54 machine was tight to start on a short run, but with multiple green-flag laps usually freed up to a strong driving position. However, they decided not to make significant balance adjustments in order to work ahead of the track’s changing surface. This decision would prove to be a mistake later in the race. Jones continued to battle within the top five spots but his Camry became more unbalanced as the night progressed. A caution period occurred at lap 144 and while Jones and team felt the car began to loosen up, they chose not to visit pit road in order to save their sets of tires in case of a late-race caution, they could use their tires for track advantage at the end of the race.
- A long green-flag run ensued and without the ability to visit pit road under a caution period, the No. 54 and Jones could only ‘hang on’ as the driving became more and more difficult. One more pit road visit at lap 222 of the scheduled 250-lap race, but the effort was too late to affect the team’s situation. They tightened up their Toyota, finally, and to Jones’ liking, but without enough time for him to make a good run back towards the front of the field. Running fifth for most of the remaining event laps, Jones managed to gain one more position before taking the checkered flag at night’s end, a hard fought fourth-place result.
- Friday night's XFINITY Series event recorded an average speed of 101.550mph and saw four lead changes across three drivers. There were three caution periods over 24 laps of the 250-mile event.
- With Saturday’s top-five result the No. 54 Monster Energy team remains 11th in NASCAR’s Owner Championship Points Standings, 96 markers behind the No. 22 of Penske Racing.
- Next week’s NASCAR XFINITY Series competes Saturday, May 2 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in the Winn-Dixie 300 and will be broadcast on Fox at 3:00pm EST.
Erik’s Post-Race Thoughts:
“We had a good Monster Energy Camry today, but man, the track change was big for us. It seems like we got a little bit free on the second run on tires, and we didn’t adjust. After that the car was just so loose. Our teammate’s car was fast. It’s awesome to see that for them and see them in victory lane, but I wish it was us. I think we had a car that could have possibly done it. We just need to make a little bit better adjustments. I’m proud of our JGR team. We’ve been making gains on both the 20 and the 54 every week and I’m just proud to be with this team and I know we’ll be there in victory lane again soon.”