Erik Jones’ goal for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 is pretty simple.
“We want to make the end of the race,” said Jones, who is replacing the suspended Matt Kenseth in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota. “I want to be able to say we ran all 334 laps. If we can say that and have run in the top 15, I think that’s a good day for us.”
It’s a triple-header weekend for Jones, who also ran in Friday’s Truck race and will race in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway. He said he is unfamiliar with Kenseth’s team, including crew chief Jason Ratliff. He hadn’t even spoken with Kenseth or Gibbs about the situation as of Friday night.
“Going into this weekend, I didn’t know Jason that well, I’d only met him once,” said Jones, who was the Trucks points leader entering Friday’s race. “(Gibbs) knows this is a tough position for everybody involved, and I think he’s just excited that we do have speed here this weekend.”
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Jones, 19, has just one career Cup start, finishing 40th at Kansas in the spring. He will also drive Kenseth’s car next week at Phoenix before Kenseth returns for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Having that one Cup race, it’s only one race, but there’s a lot of what was learned just in that one day,” Jones said. “Getting (it) figured out a little it and seeing what the differences were between racing the Cup car, compared to the Truck or the Xfinity series.”
▪ Brad Keselowski will start on the pole for Sunday’s race, alongside Kevin Harvick. Keselowski had a fast lap of 196.929 mph. Jones starts sixth.
“The conditions were favorable for the track having a lot of speed and we were able to make the most of it,” said Keselowski, who is sixth in the standings. “There are a lot of hungry dogs who will be chasing us all race long. We’re in a must-win situation.”
▪ Lennie Pond, NASCAR’s rookie of the year in 1973, was scheduled to undergo cancer surgery Friday in Richmond, Va. Pond, 75, who had one career Cup victory (at Talladega in 1978), beat out Darrell Waltrip for the ’73 rookie honor.
▪ NASCAR has extended its long-time contingency agreement with 3M Automotive Aftermarket Division by five years. 3M supplies automotive products for NASCAR’s teams and cars.
▪ Next season’s night race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway will be called the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, the track announced Friday.
Said NASCAR team owner and NRA Second Vice President Richard Childress in a statement: “Racing fans and NRA members treasure their freedom and outdoor heritage, and the Night Race is where we go to celebrate that love of freedom, love of the shooting sports, and love of the great outdoors.”
In 2013, Texas Motor Speedway came under criticism when the NRA sponsored the track’s spring race. As a result, NASCAR now has a clause in its sanction agreements that it must approve race sponsors. According to ESPN.com, Bristol president Jerry Caldwell said NASCAR didn’t have a problem with this sponsorship. NASCAR didn’t have an immediate comment.