(photo courtesy Leon Hammack)
A stray left-front tire during a late-race pit stop in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 turned what was looking to be Erik Jones and the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing team’s first top-five finish into a respectable but disappointing 12th-place showing.
The tire violation penalty for Jones was restarting the race from the tail end of the lead-lap with just the overtime three-lap green/white/checkered remaining. Jones grabbed all he could in that short amount of time but it wasn’t enough to satisfy after running so well all afternoon at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway.
“The Toyota Service Centers Camry was fast all day,” said Jones. “We just don’t complete the races that well so we have to go to work and get a little bit better and figure out how to execute well all day. I have a lot of confidence in the Furniture Row Racing team. We’re a new program but we’re a talented group so it’s just a matter of time before we start hitting on all eight cylinders.”
A bright spot in the Denver, Colo.-based team’s afternoon was the nine additional championship points earned from Jones’ eighth-place finish in the first stage (three points) and fifth-place finish in the second stage (six points). The new point system paid off as Jones moved up three positions in the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series point standings to 15th. He’s now two points behind Kurt Busch for 14th and 20 points behind Kyle Busch for 10th.
“I was really optimistic coming into the day,” said Jones’ crew chief Chris Gayle. “I thought we had a top-four car in practice Saturday and I think we had a top-six car during the race and ran there most of the day. There was just some unfortunate timing with problems on pit road late in the race and we didn’t have any time to overcome it. To give the Furniture Row Racing crew credit, they were good all last week and good in the early stops Sunday but it was just untimely with the problems we had today.”
The race winner was Kyle Larson. Rounding out the top 10 in order were: Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Daniel Suarez, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott.
The race had 17 lead changes among eight drivers and seven cautions for 29 laps.
The next Cup race is Sunday, April 2 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!