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It’s Biz As Usual: Jones Wins Xfinity Race At TMS

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 8 2017

Erik Jones won another Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tim Parks)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Drop the green flag on a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, and Erik Jones is money.

Jones scored his second series victory in five starts in Cowtown Saturday afternoon, dominating the 110-lap third segment of the 21st annual My Bariatric Solutions 300.

Jones, who also won Stage 1 after 45 laps, conquered TMS’ repaved and re-profiled 1.5-mile oval to become the sixth different Xfinity winner in as many 2017 starts. Jones won his first series start at TMS from pole position in 2015, and had not finished worse than fourth in three subsequent starts leading into Saturday’s 200-lap/300-miler.

“It’s been a good track for me,” said Jones, who celebrated his high school graduation in a ceremony orchestrated by TMS President Eddie Gossage on June 6, 2014. Jones then finished 11th in that night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 400.

“The first time I came here, it’s funny, it really wasn’t that good to me,” said Jones, wearing a Stetson cowboy hat during his post-race interview. “But after that it just kind of clicked and I felt really good here ever since. The repave was really treacherous to start the weekend and this is a nice way to bounce back for myself after going to a backup (Friday) in the Cup car. Hopefully this is a good start for tomorrow. We have a long ways to go, but great win today and nice to get this Camry to Victory Lane.”

Jones wrecked his primary Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota during Friday’s extended practice, and will start Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 in his backup Camry from the 36th grid spot.  The green flag will fall on FOX Sports at 12:30 p.m. (CDT).

Jones finished 0.512-seconds ahead of Ryan Blaney and the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang. Kevin Harvick rounded-out the podium in the No. 41 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford.

Jones took the lead for good during a round of green flag pit stops on Lap 156, setting up a final segment dash with Blaney and Harvick. Jones led three times for a race-high 112 laps.

“I think we just had to look at what the track was doing over the race and kind of how the track changed what our car did,” said Jones, accompanied by car-owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Chris Gabehart. “We really didn’t make many adjustments. Chris did a great job last night trying to get the car freed-up for today. The track was definitely a lot tighter.“

Jones posted his first win and third top-10 result of 2017, as well as his fifth top-five finish in five starts at TMS.

Blaney earned his fourth top-10 Xfinity finish in four races at TMS, as well as his second top-10 of the season in the car fielded by Penske Racing.

“I thought our car was pretty good all day,” said Blaney, who led twice for 43 laps. “The No. 20 seemed to be a little better than us for 35 or 40 laps. Then I feel like we could start running him down. We passed him before the last pit stop and I thought our car was pretty decent right there. I needed to turn a little better early in a run. I knew it wasn’t going to be that long for the next stint. We didn’t come out with the lead and that hurt us. I think if we would have come out with the lead I don’t know if I could have held him off. He was pretty good right away but we over-adjusted and got too free that last run.

“ I felt like we were kind of even with them 10 laps into a run but then he got so far out ahead that we couldn’t run him down. Just couldn’t get there.”

Austin Dillon finished fourth and was followed by rookie Cole Custer and _ for the sixth consecutive race _ Darrell Wallace Jr. in sixth. Rookie William Byron finished seventh, followed by Ty Dillon, rookie Matt Tifft and Elliott Sadler, who exited Texas with a six-point lead over JR Motorsports teammate Byron.

Custer, driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford, also was the highest-finishing Xfinity Series driver, as Jones, Blaney, Harvick and Austin Dillon are Cup Series regulars and ineligible to score Xfinity points.

“We had an awesome Haas Automation Mustang, we just had to bide our time,” Custer said. “We kept getting stuck on the outside on the restarts and had to wait and wait until we got track position on the bottom. We had a really strong run. I can’t thank everybody enough who made this happen. I feel like I’m getting more and more comfortable as I get experience and used to racing everybody. We’re making strides, both me and the team.”

Byron out-raced Sadler to the finish line at the end of Stage 2 and 90 laps. Also scoring top-10 points for the segment were Ryan Reed, Justin Allgaier, Brandon Jones, Erik Jones, Ryan Sieg, Blake Koch, Brendan Gaughan and Wallace Jr.

“It was really important for us to win that stage,” said Byron, driver of the No. 9 Axalta/Priefert Chevrolet Camaro fielded by Hendrick Motorsports. “Overall just didn’t play-out the way we wanted to with pit strategy.”

The start of Stage 2 was marred almost immediately by a pair of cautions. Reigning series champion Daniel Suarez brought out the day’s third yellow when he spun exiting Turn 2. Suarez did a great job of keeping his No. 18 Juniper Toyota off the wall, while the field avoided on-the-fly contact.

When the race went green on Lap 67, a five-car wreck brought out the fourth caution. The incident started with Wallace Jr.’s spin in the No. 6 Leidos Ford in front of Tyler Reddick’s No. 42 Broken Bow Records Camaro between Turns 3 and 4. Also involved were the cars of Brennan Poole, Allgaier and Brandon Jones.

Also scoring points as top-10 finishers in Stage 1 were Byron, Reed, Suarez, Wallace Jr., Reddick, Austin Dillon and Harvick. Jones’ winning average speed was 131.563 mph.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 8 2017
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