Jones Triumphant Two Times Over
No one doubts Erik Jones’ ability behind the wheel. The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver had four career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories coming into 2015, but following the first eight races of the season, all anyone could talk about was why hadn’t he been able to visit victory lane in a truck this season? Heck, he’d already won an XFINITY Series race. Surely it’s easier to win in his full-time ride, right? It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Jones has led over 30 laps in all but two starts this season and scored four poles on the way to an astonishing 2.3 average starting position. Dominating performances at Kansas, Charlotte, and Dover ultimately left the 19 year-old-driver disappointed, with fuel mileage, a late caution, and pit strategy costing him the victories.
Fast forward to this weekend. Two tracks, two series, two victories. Jones easily won the pole for the Truck Series’ American Ethanol 200 and threw that monkey off his back with authority, leading 112 laps on his way to Victory Circle. Two days later, Jones defeated fellow young gun Ryan Blaney and Sprint Cup interloper Austin Dillon in the XFINITY Series’ Owens Corning AttiCat 300 at Chicagoland in Joe Gibbs’ No. 54. Dry spell over, look for Jones to add more victories in both series before the year is over.
XFINITY Regulars Fail to Capitalize During Standalone Weekend
Chicagoland’s race weekend is one of few standalone races on the XFINITY Series schedule this year. With only one Cup driver—Dillon—scheduled to race, the weekend was touted as an opportunity for XFINITY regulars to finally go toe-to-toe in pursuit of the victory without Sprint Cup stars stealing the show. Names like Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Daniel Suarez were expected to contend for their first victory of the season. So who won?
Erik Jones. On a weekend that should have seen an XFINITY regular take home the trophy, a Truck Series driver continued the trend of interlopers going to victory lane, leading 94 laps and holding off Blaney and Dillon when the checkers flew. Why is it so hard for the XFINITY drivers to win, and on such a “special” weekend? Besides a restrictor-plate triumph for Ryan Reed and two wins for his teammate Chris Buescher, no other XFINITY regular has visited victory lane this season. Regulars collectively won ten times last year, four in 2013, 14 in 2012 and six in 2011. If this trend continues, 2015 might not see many more XFINITY regulars in victory lane.
The motorsports world woke up to unexpected news last Wednesday: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is getting married! Junior popped the question to longtime girlfriend Amy Reimann while on vacation in Germany. Needless to say, she said yes.
— Amy Earnhardt (@AmyEarnhardt) June 17, 2015
The outpouring of congratulations to both on social media was huge; perhaps it could be considered the digital equivalent of the receiving line his father drove through after his Daytona 500 triumph. It’s wonderful to see Junior today—happy, contending, content, and engaged—and know that the dark ages of his career are well over.
The Phones Are Nearly Silent
Road-course ringers used to add an extra bit of excitement to the Sprint Cup Series’ dates at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. With the majority of Cup drivers not completely acclimated to turning right at full speed (and shifting and pitting on the opposite side), an accomplished road racer might be able to hop into an underfunded car—sometimes even a fully-sponsored, top-flight ride—and mix it up with the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart. Fans watching the ticker across the top of the screen would see names like Boris Said, Ron Fellows, and Scott Pruett running up front.
The best they could ever do was second, but it was sure fun to watch them and see if they could dethrone the kings of the road courses like Gordon and Stewart. As the years passed, Cup regulars became more comfortable with the format, closing the talent gap and keeping these ringers out of top rides. The last time a specialist finished in the top 10 was 2010 (Said, Sonoma, eighth place). The last time two finished in the top 10? Watkins Glen 2005 (Said finished third and Pruett fourth). Only Said, Alex Kennedy, and Justin Marks are on the entry list this weekend. Sonoma 2015 will be another chapter in the winding down of an era.
Danica Patrick, Hall of Famer?
A few days ago, a Motorsport.com article circulated around social media making the case for Danica Patrick’s inclusion into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Insert double take here. Hall of Fame career? Until Patrick can run consistently in the top ten, make the Chase, win a race, really do anything more than what she’s done up to this point, this shouldn’t even be a conversation. The Hall of Fame belongs to the elite. Could she be an elite driver one day, however? Absolutely. Patrick has made strides, especially this season, and has a long career ahead of her. She’s without a sponsor next year? She’ll get one. She might leave Stewart-Haas? Maybe a ride in lesser equipment will lessen the immense pressure placed on her to succeed. The article rightly points out that Patrick is the first female racer to have any staying power at the Cup level. Sometimes it takes time to acclimate. Juan Pablo Montoya took three years to consistently run well. If Patrick can continue to run well and improve, a convincing case most definitely could be made.