At the site of his first career XFINITY Series victory in 2015, Erik Jones is always a factor at Texas Motor Speedway. In Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300, the 20-year-old proved just that.
Starting from second position, it didn’t take Jones long to find the lead. Once he went around pole-sitter Joey Logano early in the opening stage, the No. 20 car went on to lead 112 laps, his second highest total in his young XFINITY Series career, only leading more at Iowa Speedway last July (154).
Jones won the first stage in commanding fashion, ahead of Ryan Blaney, his strongest competitor all day. While the two Cup Series drivers traded the lead back and forth during the second stage, William Byron ended up on top, when he and 10 other drivers chose not to pit with a handful of laps to go in the stage under caution.
At the beginning of the run to the finish, Blaney looked to have control, until the final green flag pit stop with roughly 50 laps to go. Jones pitted a lap ahead of the No. 22 machine and took advantage of the fresh rubber. He never looked back.
“We really didn’t make many adjustments,” Jones told Fox Sports after the event. [Christopher] Gabehart [crew chief] did a good job freeing it up last night getting the car freed up for today. The track was definitely a lot tighter, but it’s just cool to get the GameStop Toyota to Victory Lane.”
The young guns ruled the day at Texas on Saturday, as Logano was the oldest driver to lead laps. The race was mostly dominated by Cup Series regulars, but throughout the day a few XFINITY Series drivers were in the mix.
It wasn’t the normal side-by-side racing at Texas, due to the newly paced race surface, so clean air was ultra important. In a race that saw Byron be the highest XFINITY Series regular for much of the afternoon, Cole Custer came around at the end and finished fifth.
Heading into the season, everyone knew the XFINITY Series was up for grabs this season. Early on in the season, both Ryan Reed and Justin Allgaier saw themselves in Victory Lane. Championship leader Elliott Sadler is always among the front runners, but Saturday’s race saw a mixture of young talent lead the charge for the XFINITY Series.
Despite the victory going to Joe Gibbs Racing, the XFINITY Series seems to be level this year as six different drivers have won the first six events. At this time last year, Kyle Busch already had four checkered flags.
Depending on what type of racing the viewer enjoys, the new track layout at Texas might not be their style. Like all freshly repaved tracks, there are always positives and negatives.
Unfortunately, track position was key on Saturday. That’s the case at a lot of tracks, but Texas has become a one groove track now. Changes had to be made after the November Cup Series playoff race was halted for over six hours due to weepers on the track surface, but it came at a cost.
Because of the change, if a driver dares to get off the bottom, they will fall back multiple positions, or until they can get back to the preferred line.
There was some decent racing, but for the most part came on the straightaways, particular off of Turn 2 and down the backstretch. Once a car got loose and off the bottom there was hell to pay, which led to a lot of strung out racing. Kevin Harvick finished the event in third, over 20 seconds off the lead. When was the last time you saw that?
Bear with TMS, race fans, the first few events are going to be like this at the newly reconfigured race track.
With seven laps to go in Stage 2, Tyler Reddick clipped the right rear quarter panel of Darrell Wallace Jr., triggering a six-car melee, also involving Brennan Poole, Justin Allgaier, Daniel Suarez and Harvick.
This was a case of Reddick trying to get back down into the preferred groove getting into Turn 3, but before he could Wallace was in position to have the spot. While most cars received minor damage, the pair of Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolets were retired from the race.
Reddick is scheduled to run just over half of the XFINITY Series events in 2017, so seat time is valuable. In three races thus far the rookie driver has a best finish of 14th at Phoenix International Raceway. And while it was a racing incident, costing Poole, his teammate some points could make for an interesting Monday at the race shop.
Underdog Performance of the Race
After having a tough time on the West Coast, Custer recorded his second career top-five finish on Saturday, moving into the top five late in the event.
Custer, 19, was coming off a 35th-place finish when Ryan Sieg got into him at Auto Club Speedway two weeks ago. The No. 00 started the race in sixth, but didn’t receive points in either of the first two stages of the race due to pit strategy.
“We kept getting stuck on the outside on the restarts and had to wait and wait until we got track position on the bottom,” Custer said. “We had a really strong run. I feel like I am getting more and more comfortable as I get experience and used to racing everybody.”
Custer heads into Bristol Motor Speedway with a best finish of sixth at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile in three career Camping World Truck Series starts.
Double Duty Interlopers
Yet again, Cup Series stars dominated much of the race, leading 177 of 200 laps. However, this time it was different names, the young guns of the premier division.
Jones led the aforementioned 112 laps, while Blaney was out front for 43 circuits, second most on the afternoon. Suarez led three laps before finishing 12th after having an eventful race, getting caught up in two incidents, including spinning from second position. Logano led 19 laps before something in his engine went sour.
It’s worth noting that Brad Keselowski, who was broadcasting the race from the Fox Sports booth thinks that it will be a huge advantage to the drivers who are pulling double duty this week compared to most other weeks. Since there is only one real racing groove, and it’s the first time cars have seen the reconfigured track, any additional track time could play dividend in the Cup race.
“Texas is tough now. Giving up that bottom groove is like pulling teeth. I really fought hard there and did look with about nine laps to go where I was and got it mixed up between us and the 9 and we were sixth. Unreal.”- Darrell Wallace Jr.
“We are bringing speed to the race track. Everyone knows we are here and contending so once we start closing things out we will be good. We are in the playoffs already so we can try things and be patient.” – Ryan Reed
“I think you could flip flop the top – fifth place to 12th –and you could put anybody anywhere just depending all on track positions, so it’s crazy though because like catching traffic you would catch somebody and it was like an accordion effect.” – Matt Tifft
Interesting. The XFINITY Series was definitely that on Saturday. Just like every other recent repave the first race at the venue has one distinct line. It will take a while before the second groove comes in on either end of the track, but when it does think of the options.
Eddie Gossage, President of Texas Motor Speedway, increased Turns 1 and 2 to 85 feet of asphalt. Since the track openned in 1997 those turns were only 50-feet wide. Turns 3 and 4 remained the same width as they were prior.
Think of the uniqueness that could happen once the racing groove expands. It might take a few years, but Texas will yet again put on some of the best races. You’re just going to have to give it time.
The XFINITY Series has a week off before heading to the high banks of Bristol on April 22. Jones is the defending winner of the event, leading 62 laps from the pole en route to his first career short track victory.