Box Score Info:
RACE: NASCAR XFINITY Series; US Cellular 250
TRACK: Iowa Speedway
DRIVER: Erik Jones
CAR: No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry
QUALIFIED: 5th (with driver Drew Herring); STARTED in rear due to driver change
LAPS: Completed 260 of 260
RACE WINNER: Ryan Blaney of Penske Racing
- NASCAR’s XFINITY Series entered week nineteen of the 2015 season at Iowa Speedway on Saturday for the US Cellular 250 race event. Young Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver Erik Jones and the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota team started from the rear of the field, due to a driver change at race start, when Jones traveled from Pocono, PA after completing a Camping World Truck Series race the same day. The team knew they had a fast car, with a fifth-place qualifying position at 132.570mph run by JGR substitute driver Drew Herring. The Monster Energy Camry drove between 39th place and third place through the night, battling the car’s loose-handling condition and the race event’s multiple restarts, before bringing home a seventh-place result, Jones’ 11th top-10 finish in 17 weeks.
- Two practice sessions late Friday showcased the Toyota team’s setup as they paced top of the speed charts in first practice and second-quick in final practice sessions. Herring reported a loose-handling Camry and the team prepared to make adjustments for when Jones would take over the driver’s seat Saturday night.
- Saturday’s start was only Jones’ 17th-career XFINITY Series race over two seasons. To date as a part-time XFINITY series driver in 2015 Jones has earned two wins, eight top-five finishes, 11 top-10 finishes, three poles and 276 laps led. Jones currently averages a 4.6 start and 11.2 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. During Saturday’s earlier race event at Pocono (PA) Raceway Jones started on the pole, led nine laps and brought home a 10th-place result.
- Jones told his crew on the radio at event start, “Thank you guys and thank you Drew (Herring)” for the effort to prepare the No. Monster Energy Camry while he was conducting “double-duty” in another state. Upon taking the green flag, and after having dropped to the rear of the field, due to the driver change, Jones immediately began to make headway from the 39th position. On lap five the No. 54 was scored in 29th place, at lap 10 Jones had advanced to the 25th position. The Monster Energy Camry was in the top 20 at lap 16 and at this time Jones started to confirm more of a loose-handling condition. “I’m loose in and murdering the brakes to drive some tight into it,” Jones was heard over the radio. Additionally the young driver communicated a tight-handling condition with "drive off" the exit of the turns. The condition worsened and at lap 52 of the scheduled 250-lap event, Jones added, “the steering wheel is heavy, I can’t feel the limit of the front tires.” The spotter and crew chief reassured Jones that none of the frontrunners were passing at that point in the race either, everyone was following in line.
- Spotter Frank Bolter continued to help navigate the traffic with Jones as he moved into the 14th position at lap 61. The team’s first pit-road visit occurred not long after and the No. 54 crew offered Jones the adjustments he needed to continue advancement towards the front. The Joe Gibbs Racing team saw 11th place at lap 81, 7th place at lap 93 and into the sixth-place position at lap 104. Jones found it difficult to drive closer to the leaders, though, and he commented, “only time I can do anything is on the restart with fresh tires.” Past the race halfway mark and Bolter guided the young driver to, “work the bottom, hit your marks and you’ll drive away.” Although Jones had advanced up to fourth place, the next portion of the race ultimately affected how the Monster Energy team would end the night.
- Under race caution, the JGR unit prepared to visit pit road for the second time of the evening, when the No. 54 machine was hit from behind as a bottleneck affect crunched up Jones entering pit road. Hit from behind by the No. 06 Ford and in the front by the No. 07 Chevrolet, the Monster Energy team was unsure of their car’s condition. Once Jones visited the pit box, the team assessed a little bumper damage but clearance around all four tires, so there was no concern. However, time lost during that pit-road incident put the No. 54 Toyota to the tail-end of the lead lap. As they already held that position and because they knew fuel mileage could be a factor later in the race, the No. 54 team elected to visit their pit stall once more for a fuel top-off.
- The team was in 15th place at restart and moved into the 12th position at lap 164. Still complaining of a “loose-in” condition Jones and team conducted a third pit-box visit under race caution. “Good stop!” Jones was heard shortly after when the team gained him spots for the restart, now in eighth place. Because he knew the race was winding down, Jones aggressively drove into the sixth position while Bolter was heard reassuring over the team radio, “Good work, keep it up, make it count!” At lap 225 Jones moved into fifth place and was fourth at lap 226 when another race caution flag waved. “Get your stuff cooled off here and we’ll go back at ‘em,” Bolter reassured over the radio once more to Jones. “I’m getting an arm workout, that’s for sure,” Jones responded with reference to his time running two races in one day. “Your putting on a good show, definitely giving the fans their money’s worth,” crew chief Chris Gayle responded. Three more restarts would occur and Jones would fluctuate between fifth place and third place, but late-race traffic and bundled restarts would equate to a seventh-place finish for the Joe Gibbs Racing rookie.
- Saturday night's XFINITY Series event recorded an average speed of 103.383mph and saw six lead changes across four drivers. There were eight caution periods over 41 laps of the 260-lap event.
- With Saturday’s top-five result the No. 54 Monster Energy team moves to fourth in NASCAR’s Owner Championship Points Standings, 94 markers behind the race-winning No. 22 of Penske Racing.
- Next week’s NASCAR XFINITY Series competes Saturday, August 1 at Watkins Glen (NY) International for the Zippo 200 and will be broadcast on NBCSN at 3:00pm EST.
Erik’s Post-Race Thoughts:
“I think it was a solid day overall. It just seems like we couldn’t really catch a break. Most of the day we had a fast car and got up front and had a shot for the win. We were running fourth on a couple of those restarts. It just never quite worked out with the lines, the holes never opened up for us, but a solid day overall for our Monster Energy Camry. A lot better than we were here the first Iowa race so I’m excited to come back next year, I guess we are done here for this year, but a good race overall.”