Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – FORT WORTH, TX – A fourth-place finish for Erik Jones in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway didn’t have the impact of a breakthrough victory, but it marked substantial progress nevertheless for the second-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver.
Jones led twice for a total of 64 laps and posted his best finish since joining Joe Gibbs racing at the start of the season. More than anything, Sunday’s result gave him a jolt of confidence.
“We’ve been kind of inching there each week, getting closer and closer,” Jones said. Martinsville (where he finished 17th two weeks ago) is kind of its own animal, but each week at the 1.5-mile and two-miles, we’ve been getting better. To get the Reser’s Camry up front and just in the top five is a big moment for us.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do here with this group, and we did a good job of it this weekend. Texas is a place I like. I’ve got to say thanks to the pit crew. They worked really hard. We’ve had a rough start to the year on pit road, but they knocked them out. We picked up a lot of spots on pit road today, and that was huge for us. Just a good day overall and a lot to build on for Bristol.”
In fact, Jones gained three spots each on two consecutive pit stops, the second of which handed him the lead for a restart on Lap 178.
That Jones would excel at Texas, however, is no surprise. In 2015, as a 19-year-old, he claimed his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at the 1.5-mile track and went on to win twice more there in the series.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.’S TOP-FIVE STREAK ENDS IN HARD CRASH
All good things must come to an end – just ask Martin Truex Jr.
Truex was running second in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, albeit 12 seconds behind then-leader Kevin Harvick – when his right front tire blew and sent the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota rocketing into the outside wall in Turn 4.
The violent wreck on Lap 80, just five laps short of the end of the first stage, knocked Truex out of the race in 37th place. That ended an enviable streak of 10 straight top-five finishes on Truex’s bread-and-butter tracks, the 1.5-mile intermediate speedways.
Truex had experienced no tire issues before the sudden flat.
“Just blew a right-front tire out of nowhere,” Truex said. “Not sure what happened there – if we ran something over or what. I think the first set of tires that came off the car looked great. We were just making our way towards the front. Would’ve been nice to have at least finished that first stage before it happened, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes…
“All in all, we were going to be in for a good day. We were making the car better and still had room to go. We were as fast as anybody. At least that’s a positive, and we’ll go on to next week (at Bristol) and see what we can do.”
Truex’s streak of top fives at intermediate tracks dated to the first Kansas race of 2017. Six of his top fives were victories, and over those 10 races, he posted an average finish of 2.0.
JIMMIE JOHSON FINDS ENCOURAGEMENT IN CALAMITY AT TEXAS
Leave it to Jimmie Johnson to find the silver lining in a disastrous day on the race track.
After a promising start from ninth on the grid in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Johnson’s fortunes headed south in a hurry. First there was a loose wheel that required an unscheduled pit stop, result in a lost lap.
The coup de grace came after restart on Lap 178, when Denny Hamlin’s Toyota broke loose underneath Aric Almirola’s Ford and ignited a seven-car wreck that knocked Johnson out of the race in 35th place and down to 21st in the series standings.
Nevertheless, Johnson was happy just to be able to run in the top 10 – while it lasted.
“A strong Friday, a fantastic Saturday (when he led final practice) and then not the best Sunday,” Johnson said philosophically. “We had a lot of different things work against us today, but we’re getting closer each and every week, and I’m really proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. We will get back to our winning ways soon…
“Today we had plenty of speed, but just a lot of things worked against us. We just need a good clean weekend, and we’ll go to Bristol next week and see if we can do it there.”