(photo courtesy Leon Hammack)
A strong on-track performance by Erik Jones and the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry was overshadowed by a tough afternoon on pit road, forcing the Furniture Row Racing team to settle for a still respectable 15th-place finish in the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
An eighth-place qualifying effort on Friday allowed the 20-year-old Byron, Mich., native to start on the outside of Row 4 for Sunday’s 267-lap race. Multiple cautions and a green-lap pit stop early on created deficits that Jones was able to whittle away enough to finish 13th in the first 80-lap segment. He stayed out during the caution between segments to start seventh in the second segment.
The No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota raced in the top 10 until Lap 153 when, under caution, Jones entered the pit stall at an acute angle making it difficult to exit once service to the car was completed. He returned to competition in 15th place but was able to pick up two spots before the second 80-lap segment concluded on lap 160.
Jones worked his way into the top 10 by Lap 168 and stayed there until the race’s final caution on lap 252. He was 10th when he came down pit road for service but the stop ran long and the 5-hour ENERGY Toyota lined up 15th for the restart. Jones was unable to improve his position in the final 10-lap dash to the checkered flag.
“The 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry was fast enough to run in the top 10 but we didn’t execute in the pits,” said Jones, who finished 14th in Atlanta last week. “We’re capable of running up front but we have to execute as the race goes on. We can make up for those spots during the middle part of the race but once it comes down to the end it’s more difficult. I feel good about how we’ve run but I want to get strong finishes to match.”
Jones was the highest finishing rookie and so earned his second consecutive Sunoco Rookie of the Race award. He also moved up nine positions in the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series point standings and is now 20th..
“We had a sixth- to eighth-place 5-hour ENERGY Toyota, which is about what it was last week at Atlanta,” said crew chief Chris Gayle. “Unfortunately, we lost time in the pits today, by both the crew and the driver, and it’s tough to do that, especially on that late restart with 10 to go when we had to start 15th after running ninth or 10th all day.
“I’m happy with everything else that happened today. I think Erik’s doing a great job. We’ve seen his talent the last two weeks, coming into the first two intermediate races and running top 10 both races.”
Furniture Row Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota Camry team earned their first victory of the season after sweeping all three stages of the race. The rest of the top 10 finishers were Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer. There were 14 lead changes among six drivers and six cautions for 34 laps.
The fourth race of the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series season is the March 19 Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKNG ON MY REDNECK!