By AMANDA VINCENT
Erik Jones completed a 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series sweep of Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth on Saturday night with a dominant performance that led to the win of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.
“I thought starting the race off, man, we’re really fast; we’re really good. This is going to be a mostly dominant race for us, and didn’t turn out that way,” Jones said. “We led a lot of laps, but it seemed like we were really working for it, but you know; that’s kind of the way it is. The Xfinity Series has really gotten tighter and tighter year by year, and it’s been really close all year long, so just happy to get the GameStop Camry back in victory lane again. It’s been a few months since I’ve gotten a win, since they’ve gotten a win, so happy to come back to Texas again and grab another one.”
Jones started on the pole and won both 45-lap stages while leading 142 laps of the 200-lap race.
Jones’ fellow-Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson finished second and third. Xfinity Series playoff drivers Elliott Sadler and Cole Custer rounded out the top-five.
Custer went a lap down early in the race because of an ill-time caution. After starting on the front row next to Jones, he fell outside the top-10 in the opening laps. The first yellow waved on lap nine as Custer headed for pit road because of an issue with his right-rear tire.
“I think we just had a flat tire at the start of the race and had to go pit, but we kept our heads on straight and tried to do what we could to salvage a good day,” Custer said. We all did a really good job doing that, staying within our limits and get a decent finish. I think we did a good job of that and had a fast race car. I can’t really say I am too upset or too down going into Phoenix or anything. It is just two weeks in a row that we had some bad luck.”
Custer stayed out to take a wave-around to get back on the lead lap at the end of stage one and was able to pit when the yellow flag waved again a few laps later.
Blaney and William Byron were the only other two drivers to post double digits in the laps led column, with Blaney leading 34 and Byron 17.
Byron took the lead with a two-tire stop during the caution between the first two stages of the race and ran up front until Jones retook the lead on a lap-66 restart.
Blaney inherited the lead by staying out during the caution between the second and third stages after pitting during a caution eight laps earlier.
After several drivers stayed out and Jones spent extra time on pit road for adjustments, Jones restarted the race for the final stage in the 16th position. He was up to fourth by the seventh caution of the race with just over 70 laps remaining.
“I knew in that stage, we got that caution right there in that second stage, it was going to be kind of a mixed bag of who’s going to pit before the stage ends and we didn’t,” Jones said. “We stayed out and made that chance and made that call. We realized we were gonna kind of be mid-pack. I really felt like there was some things we needed to work on to have a shot to win. Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) did a really good job of making good adjustments for what I was asking for, and it was worth it. I wasn’t sure at the time if we were ever going to come back from 15th; that’s a long way back at a repave, but we were able to work back and the advantages we gained from those changes was big at the end.”
Jones retook the lead during the seventh caution with a two-tire pit stop.
After a cycle of green-flag pit stops with just over 10 laps remaining, Jones cycled back to the lead with the cycle completed with eight laps remaining with Blaney in close pursuit. Blaney challenged Jones in lapped traffic, but once Jones got through the traffic, he pulled away.
“I thought our car was good from the beginning,” Blaney said. “I was pretty loose to start, but once we got it tightened up, I thought we were really good. I thought the track took another swing free with maybe 60 to go and got our car looser again, but we were still able to run down the 20 (Jones) and get to him, but we just couldn’t pass him. Couldn’t pass anybody. Lap cars were all over the place. I thought it was a good night for us. It just stinks we couldn’t get around him. I thought we had a shot after the green-flag stop. I thought we were way better, but we got held up a couple times by traffic. I thought we had the car to win, just a matter of trying to get in front of him, and I couldn’t pass anybody. I tried to get him loose a couple times and couldn’t do it. I about wrecked myself trying to get him loose. It is really hard to get around anybody. Hopefully, that gets a little better for tomorrow.”
Finishing sixth through 10th were Christopher Bell, Bennan Poole, Matt Tifft and Byron.
Three playoff drivers finished outside the top-10. Justin Allgaier was 11th, Daniel Hemric 14th and Ryan Reed 23rd.
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