Box Score Info:
RACE: NASCAR XFINITY Series; VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300
TRACK: Kentucky Speedway in Sparta
DRIVER: Erik Jones
CAR: No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry
START: 10th (Per NASCAR rule book, started in rear of field due to driver change)
LAPS: Completed 201 of 201 laps
RACE WINNER: Ryan Blaney of Penske Racing
- NASCAR’s XFINITY Series entered week 27 of the 2015 season at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta for the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 race event. Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) rookie Erik Jones and the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota team earned a 10th-place starting position, but due to a driver change for race start, the Toyota team had to begin the race from the rear of the field. That would be the team’s lowest scored position for the night, but that didn’t stop Jones, as the JGR entry wasted no time driving closer to the front of the field, eventually leading two times for 13 laps, before struggling with multiple race cautions that prohibited long green-flag runs, ones the No. 54 car were stronger on. While he battled hard at the end with temper-mental car handling and a short green-white-checkered finish, Jones brought the Monster Energy Camry home in eighth place. The result was Jones seventh top-10 and the team’s 20th top-10 result of the NASCAR XFINITY Series this season.
- In two Friday practice sessions JGR driver Drew Herring and team worked their way to the top of the speed charts before rain ended the final practice session earlier than scheduled. Then on Saturday afternoon Herring followed up that strong car setup with a top-10 qualifying effort at 177.072mph, a row-five starting spot technically, but with the driver change anticipated later Saturday night, Jones would be required by NASCAR to start in the rear of the field. After posting a 7th-place result in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, earlier Saturday in NH, Jones successfully traveled to Kentucky and debriefed with Drew Herring to prepare for the XFINITY Series event.
- After taking the green flag, Jones carefully let his tires heat up and at the same time started to pass competitors in his march towards the front of the field. With the first event caution on lap two Jones was scored in 27th place, then over the next 13 laps he steadily gained positions with the help of his spotter Frank Bolter. At lap 9 the No. 54 was scored in 22nd, lap 12 scored him in 17th place and at lap 15 Jones was 15th, a bet he wagered with his teammates, when they guessed before race start how quickly he could advance. Jones reported to his crew, “The entry and exit are good,” then continued, “only a little tight in the center of the turns.” Crew chief Chris Gayle began to make preparations for the team’s visit to pit road.
- Under an event caution and from 12th place Jones brought the No. 54 down pit road, for what would be his first of four visits to the pit box for Sunoco Racing fuel, Goodyear Racing tires and car adjustments. This first stop was conducted smoothly and Jones was heard afterward stating to the team, “Good stop guys!” The next green-flag period would bring more positions captured by the Monster Energy team. In 11th place at lap 31, within the top-10 at lap 34 and then up to the seventh spot at lap 36. Spotter Bolter talked Jones through the lines he was running in an effort to help him gain even more positions. The two worked well together and agreed another pit stop visit would help the team make further adjustments to address a tight-handling condition. “You are running better lap times than the leader,” Gayle was heard over the radio to his young driver then running in fifth place to race leaders Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon, Brian Scott and teammate Daniel Suarez. In fact at the time, Jones was the only one running lap times under 32 seconds. Another pit road visit allowed the team to adjust on the No. 54 Camry. This pit stop would be pivotal as the caution flag waved just as the Monster Energy team exited pit road. In a brilliant streak of timing, once other cars visited pit road and the scoring caught up, Jones and team would be recorded as the race leaders.
- That was the first of two times when Jones would lead the race, eventually scored in the top spot for 13 laps. At the front of the field for the first time of the night, though, Jones assessed that his competitors were “firing off quicker,” able to pull away sooner after restarts. Jones’ No. 54 car would take time, based on their setup, for the handling to “come in” the way Jones wanted to advance forward. This car handling would work well with long green-flag runs, something the event was in short order of in the later part of the race. Past the halfway point and Jones was scored in fifth place. Over the next 50 laps the race would see several more caution periods. A third pit stop for the JGR team and they’d lose time on pit road, in order to take on four tires and make adjustments for race end. While the No. 54 team would bounce between 10th place and second place, ultimately the car handling wasn’t there for Jones to make the advance he needed back to the front of the field. Although a final pit road visit occurred for two more tires, the multiple caution periods and relative positioning in the field caused Jones to remain pinned down on the inside line, while cars could advance more easily on the top outer line. It wasn’t until the final green-white-checkered flag drop when Erik could restart in the outer lane, but the positioning was too late in the game and the Monster Energy Toyota took the checkered flag in the eighth position, the team’s 20th top-10 result of the 2015 season.
- Saturday’s XFINITY Series event recorded an average speed of 110.238 mph and saw 17 lead changes across seven drivers. There were 10 caution periods over 55 laps of the race extended 201-circuit event.
- With Saturday’s top-five result the No. 54 Monster Energy team remains in second place in NASCAR’s Owner Championship Points Standings, 64 markers behind the No. 22 of Penske Racing.
- The NASCAR XFINITY Series competes again Saturday, October 3 in the Hisense 200 at Dover International Speedway and will be broadcast live on NBCSN at 3:30pm EST.
Erik described his day after racing in two NASCAR events back to back:
“I guess I’m a little disappointed the way we ran in both races today. I wish it would’ve gone a little bit better. We had really good speed here in the Monster Energy Camry and I appreciated Drew Herring’s help in setting the car up. It just didn’t work out at the end of the day. Wish we could’ve got the finish that I thought we deserved. I thought we were a second or a third place car but it just didn’t work out. Long day, but a fun day overall. A lot of racing and I’m ready for the next one. It’s a shame I don’t have any more races with the (54) team this year. I feel like we could definitely pick up another win or two if we had a few more, but we’ll move on and do some more with the 20 team and hopefully finish out the year strong.”