Friday, September 30, 2016

NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers threaten to steal headline from XFINITY Series chasers; Erik Jones focused on solid run at Dover

By Carol D’Agostino

As the NASCAR XFINITY Series approaches the second race in its inaugural Chase playoff format, several drivers need a win to advance. Of course, there are also four full-time Sprint Cup drivers entered in tomorrow’s NXS  race at Dover International Speedway. That means four chances to keep a series regular from advancing via a win. 

Austin Dillon and Matt DiBenedetto have never won at Dover, but Kyle Busch has won five times and Joey Logano has four.  

For Erik Jones, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry, the plan for this weekend is simple: focus on his own performance and get a solid finish.

“Dover is a place where we’ve always had a lot of speed, and it is one of my favorite tracks. We had a really good package in the spring and we’ve improved on it even more since then,” he said.

Ironically, up until last week’s race at Kentucky Speedway, Jones was the favorite to win the XFINITY Series title. Jones started the race on the pole with four wins in hand. After leading five times for 100 laps, he and fellow Chase driver Ty Dillon collided after a restart on Lap 188. Jones finished in 28th place, putting him ninth in the driver standings. Only eight drivers will advance in the next playoff round which begins after next week’s race in Charlotte.

“Last week I made a mistake laying it all out on the line for a win, but we definitely had the speed and that’s encouraging heading into this weekend,” Jones said. “At this point, we’ll need to focus a little more on points racing, and get a solid finish. I think we can get a top-five finish the next two weeks, and hopefully that will put us in a good position to move on to the next round and keep us in contention for the championship."

His crew chief Chris Gabehart is focused on finishing to their potential.

“We have shown speed and the ability to win nearly every weekend just like we did last weekend at Kentucky, but often times not gotten the finish to show for it. We won earlier this year at Dover with a pretty dominant car. I feel confident we are bringing a better car this time with a great shot at repeating that performance,” Gabehart said.

The other drivers that will be racing hard to keep Jones out of Victory Lane are the three currently on the outside looking into the next Chase round: Ryan Sieg, Brandon Jones and Ty Dillon.

The XFINITY Series Drive Sober 200 at Dover will begin at 3 p.m. tomorrow and will be televised on NBCSN.

Credit: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs