In the third round of qualifying, Jones posted a lap of 184.546 mph, just edging out his teammate Daniel Suarez. The No. 20 team is coming off a victory in the XFINITY Series last event in Dover two weeks ago.
With a speed of 184.470 mph, Suarez was runner-up in qualifying for the fourth time this year. This time it was just .012 seconds behind his JGR teammate.
Out of the 11 races, the No. 19 car has begun the race in the top three positions 11 times.
In his first XFINITY Series race of 2016, Denny Hamlin was over two-tenths of a second off the top time in the final round of qualifying. He recorded a lap at 183.219 mph, which improved from practice on Thursday.
Austin Dillon sat on the pole and swept both races at Charlotte last year will start from fourth on Saturday afternoon. His hot lap was over three-tenths of a second off the pole winning time at 182.636 mph.
2014 winner of this race Kyle Larson rounded out the top five at 182.451 mph.
XFINITY Series points leader, Elliott Sadler will start just outside the top five in sixth. This marks the No. 1 team second best qualifying effort of the year, just behind a fifth in California.
The highest starting rookie is Cole Custer in 11th with Brandon Jones alongside in 12th.
Jeb Burton will have to start from the rear after getting into the wall in Round 1. He had the 27th quickest lap.
TJ Bell and Morgan Shepherd are the two drivers who failed to qualify for the 40-car field.
As well as his second victory of the year it was his second $100,000 bonus after finishing highest the highest of the four Dash 4 Cash drivers. Each race that he has won this season has come when he won the bonus.
"I think it's a good spot for us," Jones said about his performance, reminiscing that there is a Chase race at Dover in the fall. "Today we had a car and hopefully that will be a race where we can grab ourselves a win and advance into the next round. We're racing for wins at this point of the year and trying to get as many points as we can before the Chase."
Staying out under caution, Darrell Wallace, Jr. restarted in fourth with five laps to go. Pushing Jones to the lead, the driver of the No. 6 found himself in second with a shot at his first career victory in the XFINITY Series.
"For all that we went through Friday, 'its like okay man this is your favorite track," Wallace said of his second-place finish. "We really had to work for it. When we fired off in the heat races we made some passes and if we could carry that we would have been fine. I was right for once."
The second-place finish was the highest for an African American in the XFINITY Series history, breaking his own record of third last season in Chicago.
Making his first start of 2016 in any NASCAR division, Alex Bowman came home with a third-place result. During the long 70-lap run that opened up the event, the No. 88 car went from fifth to the lead and in the process led 33 laps.
This was the first of nine races on the schedule for Bowman, a guy that thought he had a full-time ride in the Cup Series until NASCAR Media Week in January. Since then he competed in a few open wheel events, but later realized that it was discouraging knowing he wasn't in NASCAR.
"I hope my phone starts ringing and I get some more races," Bowman said of his effort Saturday which tied a career-high finish. "I've got nine races this year and at this point in my career those nine races are really going to define where it goes. I think with my experience in the Cup Series the last two years I have to go win some races. I have to prove that I should be here."
Justin Allgaier grabbed fourth-place after starting from pole. The No. 7 car was out front for the opening lap, but quickly faded to fifth where he ran near for the majority of the 120 laps. This is his eighth top-10 finish in 10 races this year.
Taking the lead on Lap 2, Ty Dillon went on to lead the next 11 circuits. During that long green flag run he quickly fell outside of the top 10, barely remaining on the lead lap before the first caution flew. With the late caution the No. 3 car got a good restart and drove up to round out the top five.
Elliott Sadler rebounded to a sixth-place result after starting from 32nd. In time trials, the No. 1 machine posted the third fastest lap, but jumped the initial restart and was black-flagged. In the first 20 laps of the race he had made his way inside the top 15. From there he just kept going.
Joey Logano, the first Cup Series regular finished seventh on Saturday. At a track where he has four career wins, the No. 22 car struggled throughout the day hovering around the back half of the top 10.
The two other Joe Gibbs Racing cars finished eighth and ninth. Matt Tift hung on to eight-place as Daniel Suarez was penalized late in the event, resulting in a ninth-place effort.
Two of the Richard Childress Racing cars had problems that didn't cause cautions, resulting in multiple laps down. Brandon Jones had a tire rub 20 laps in and made an unscheduled pit stop to repair the damage. He finished 25th. Paul Menard was running sixth when he had a tire go down losing three laps and finishing 29th.
The XFINITY Series has a week off before going to Charlotte on Memorial Day weekend. Sadler holds a four point lead on Suarez through 10 events.
Imagine being in Erik Jones shoes, 19 years old, fighting for an opportunity to compete under the Joe Gibbs Racing banner in the Sprint Cup Series. Embarking on his first full season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, he is attempting to secure the organization’s second title in the division.
Since the age of 16, Jones has been in the Joe Gibbs Racing wing, when Kyle Busch first noticed him while racing in the Snowball Derby at 5 Flags Speedway. Months later, Jones won a Camping World Truck Series race at the Phoenix International Raceway for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
The 2016 season marks the reigning Truck Series champion’s first full-time season in the XFINITY Series. While winning the truck title in 2015, Jones also competed in 23 XFINITY races, winning two of them at Texas and Chicago.
Jones also drove the No. 20 Sprint Cup car when Matt Kenseth was suspended for wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville last fall. The two drivers had a boiling feud that hit its climax in the fourth to last race of the season last year. It resulted in Kenseth being suspended for the next two events, putting Jones in the ride.
As Jones’ career has progressed, he understands he has solidified a ride with JGR when the time is right to move him up full-time to the Cup Series. There is no telling when that could be due to the stacked driver lineup in the Toyota camp of Busch, Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin. But he knows he will soon get a shot in a top ride.
“He was really the first guy to invest in me and my career along with Kyle Busch back in 2013,” Jones told Speedway Digest. “It’s really cool to have this kind of support especially at this point in my career. There are not a ton of guys who get to have that support. It’s something I never really thought I would have.”
For Jones, it was a dream come true to work with Busch, who is the defending Sprint Cup champion.
As crazy as it may sound, when Busch started racing in the Cup Series, Jones was only seven years old. He is now following in the same footsteps as his mentor.
“That was really special,” Jones said of working with Busch. “He was always a guy that I kind of looked up to and was a fan of. I learned a lot, and to have a guy like Kyle take me under his wing and really get me into this sport and give me my first opportunity was definitely special.”
The future Cup Series driver for the Gibbs organization has aligned himself with some of the sport’s top stars. He is constantly picking the brains of the current drivers at JGR about what to do in certain situations on the racetrack. He has been able to build a relationship and friendship with all of his teammates, including Daniel Suarez on the XFINITY Series side.
Jones is not afraid to go up to some of his fellow teammates and ask for advice. He feels he can learn from any of the drivers because they are all different, but in his opinion all very good and have a wealth of experience.
“They just have the wealth of knowledge for everywhere and each one of them has their own little thing that they are good at,” he said. “I’ve been trying to take all of those guys and get out of them what they are really good at.”
Though many of his peers and people within the garage believe that Jones is the next big thing, he still wants to learn. Jeff Gordon stated last spring in Texas that he had never seen a talent such as the then 18-year-old.
As of now, Jones is not scheduled to run any Cup Series or Truck Series races this season as he is one of the favorites for the XFINITY Series title in the new Chase-style format. While only running 33 races compared to the 49 he ran among the top three series in 2015, he believes that he will have enough track time to keep him busy, at least for this season.
Jones believes that the Chase will test his team as well as prepare him for the Cup Series whenever the time comes to move to the NASCAR’s top level.
At Homestead in 2015, all Jones needed to do was finish 15th to win the Truck Series title. He won three times and posted 20 top-10 finishes. A part of the change to the lower two divisions in NASCAR came partially because of the way he dominated the Truck Series. The Chase ensures that four drivers will be in title contention come Homestead.
“It just gives you a little insight on what the Cup Series is like and how that playoff format is going to be,” Jones said. “I’m excited to see actually really what the intensity level is going to be like in the XFINITY Series. We see in the Cup Series how intense it gets in the last few rounds. I’m interested to see what it’s going to be like down here.”
Many drivers from Richard Childress Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and JR Motorsports believe that the No. 20 team will be the car to beat when it gets into the latter months of the season. In 31 career XFINITY Series races, Jones has 16 top fives and 24 top 10s, which is over 75 percent of the time, in addition to leading 309 laps.
Gibbs has seen this before. Back in 2008, Joey Logano was supposed to be the “best thing since sliced bread” and won in his second career race in the XFINITY Series. He made the jump to the Cup Series at 18 years old, a mistake that the Super Bowl champion car owner doesn’t want to make again, although he did predict that Logano would do well once he moved on from JGR.
“He’s going to blossom into one of the best,” Gibbs said to Sporting News back in 2012. “We didn’t want to lose him, but it’s just the way it will work out.”
Keeping Jones in the XFINITY Series might exactly be what the team needs. Though still competitive, Kenseth, 44, is toward the end of his career and in the midst of his 17th full-time season in the Cup Series. His first full year was just one year later than Tony Stewart, who is retiring at the end of this year.
Said Jones: “I think two years in the XFINITY Series would be good. If we did move up next year I think I would be ready, I think I can do it. More time in the XFINITY Series never really hurts.”
If Jones is in the XFINITY Series for two years he could become the division’s first back-to-back champion since Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in 2011 and 2012. But with the Chase format, the team must get to Homestead before focusing fully on a championship.
Jones knows that there will be a seat available at some point in the Cup Series under the Toyota banner. Until then he is caught playing the waiting game until the right opportunity arises.
“I think there is always that worry ‘am I ready?” Jones explained. “I think every driver worries about that. Looking back at what we did in the Cup Series last year – at least in qualifying and even in the race – we were consistently toward the top 10. I feel like I could have the speed. It would just be a matter of figuring out how to put myself in a position throughout those races to be in a better spot toward the end.”
Furniture Row Racing has openly discussed the possibility of expanding to a second car in 2017. After making the switch from Chevrolet to Toyota, the organization has created a close alliance with JGR. If all goes according to plan, it will likely be Jones’ new home, similar to Ryan Blaney’s deal with the Wood Brothers and Team Penske.
Current points leader Daniel Suarez led round one with a lap time of 26.318, and a speed of 134.489 MPH. The driver of the No. 19 Juniper Networks Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing also finished second in two of the three practices held yesterday afternoon. He'll make his third top‐10 start in three races in the 'Valley Of the Sun'.
The second and third rounds were led by top‐ranked Sunoco Rookie driver Erik Jones, who would later grab the pole in the final round. This marks the 19 year old's first pole in four starts at Phoenix and his fourth in the Xfinity Series in 30 races. A teammate of Suarez, the driver of the No. 20 Resers Fine Foods Toyota posted a time of 26.507, a speed of 135.813 MPH. Jones also led the first two practice sessions on the one‐mile Arizona oval a day ago. To top it off, Jones was the fastest qualifying rookie.
While JGR claimed the top‐three starting positions, like they did a week ago in Vegas, hot on their heels is Ty Dillon. The driver of the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing will start fourth. He posted a time and speed of 26.588, 135.399 MPH to secure his spot.
The 200‐lap race will roll off later this afternoon at 12:30 PM MT (track time), 2:30 PM ET. FOX (local), MRN and Sirius XM Channel 90 have the coverage.
Here's how the qualifying rounds stacked up:
1. Daniel Suarez
2. Erik Jones
3. Chase Elliott
1. Erik Jones
2. Kyle Busch
3. Darrell Wallace Jr.
1. Erik Jones
2. Daniel Suarez
3. Kyle Busch
Top 10 Starters
1. Erik Jones
2. Daniel Suarez
3. Kyle Busch
4. Ty Dillon
5. Chase Elliott
6. Austin Dillon
7. Brad Keselowski
8. Brandon Jones
9. Darrell Wallace Jr.
10. Justin Allgaier