Brooklyn, Mich. — Michigan native Erik Jones would love nothing more than to reach Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway Sunday, something his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have done in past years.
In fact, 23-year-old Jones is the lone JGR driver to not win a race this season with Busch (four), Martin Truex Jr. (three) and Hamlin (two) combining for nine wins in the first 14 races of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season.
Jones had a strong third-place finish at Pocono Sunday, a race won by Busch, and he was seventh on the charts in practice with a lap of 187.813 mph in his No. 20 Craftsman/Sport Clips Toyota.
Jones is still trying to get accustomed to NASCAR’s new rules package in which the cars have less horsepower and more drag and downforce, with corner speeds way up and straightaway speeds down, putting the draft more in place for the drivers.
So, what did he learn from the first practice Friday?
“We didn’t really know what to expect as far as how the cars were going to drive, how much throttle we were going to carry in traffic and kind of how things were going to go,” said Jones who won the July race at Daytona last year to make the playoffs. “Just getting a good baseline for that and figuring out where we need to go on setup and trim level and everything else. Learned all those things, but as far as speed, the Craftsman Camry had good speed and it drove well.
“We’re just going to have to keep learning. There’s so much to learn in such a short amount of time about this new package here. We’re just trying to figure it out.”
When asked what he expected from the restarts come race day, Jones replied: “It’s different this year and everybody is learning. Obviously, I think the top is going to be the place to be on restarts. It was interesting at Pocono to see how uniform they got throughout the day, early everybody was trying to make big moves and then by the end, everybody was kind of staying in the line and pushing and they figure that was better.
“I think it’s going to be another learning process here where people will probably be aggressive at the start, making big moves and trying to pick up spots in the first lap. As the day goes, people are going to learn and figure out more and more what is going to be more advantageous. We’ll see. It’s going to be exciting for sure.”
Stewart-Haas fast in practice
Stewart-Haas Racing drivers combined to win 14 races last season with Kevin Harvick matching Kyle Busch with a series-high eight trips to Victory Lane.
SHR hasn’t reached Victory Lane this season, hoping Race No. 15 Sunday at MIS will change its fortune.
SHR drivers were impressive in practice with Harvick topping the charts (188.763 mph) in his No. 4 Ford with Clint Bowyer, third (188.477), followed by Daniel Suarez (188.157) and Aric Almirola (187.926).
“I feel like we’ve been fast in practice,” Suarez said. “Our cars have been very fast. The problem that we have had in the last month is that we haven’t been able to race that way. We have fast cars, there is no doubt, we just have to be able to transfer that into the race and that means having a good car for traffic and having a good car in the draft and all those different situations.”
Self wins, extends ARCA lead
Ty Majeski headed into the ARCA Menards series VizCom 200 race Friday afternoon at MIS with momentum on his side, coming off consecutive wins at Charlotte and Pocono the last two races.
But, Majeski had to deal with Michael Self who showed he would be fast during qualifying with a lap of 193.050 mph in his No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota to win the pole.
Self won consecutive races earlier in the season, and entered the day with the points lead, a 30-point advantage over Bret Holmes.
Self led 86 of the 100-laps, but gave up the lead to Majeski when taking a pit stop with about 10 laps to go and the only question would be if Majeski could win by fuel mileage since he didn’t pit with him.
Majeski actually held a 12-second lead when Self returned from pit road, but Self was taking a second off his lead each and every lap.
And, Majeski took the white flag, owning a two-second lead before running out of fuel heading into Turn 3, allowing Self to earn his third win, opening up his points lead over Holmes, who finished third.
“Ty is an awesome driver and they are such a smart team, you can never count them out because they have such a smart strategy, but at the end of the day it was the Venturini Motorsports guys,” Self said. “They built such a phenomenal No. 25 Sinclair Toyota today. They gave us the speed to lead this whole thing.”
FireKeepers Casino 400
When: 2 p.m., Sunday
Where: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn
Support race: NASCAR Xfinity Series LTi Printing 250, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.