NASCAR Iowa Speedway Weekend Preview

Erik Jones, driver of the #20 DeWaltToyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway on July 30, 2016 in Newton, Iowa. (Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – On his way to vacation during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series off-week, Erik Jones stopped by Daytona International Speedway on Wednesday to give local media thrill rides in Toyota Camrys and an off-road taste in the brand’s Tundras – all in the spirit of getting people fired up for the upcoming Coke Zero Sugar 400 (on July 7 at 7 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the sport’s most famous track.

As Jones took media members for a literal spin in the car, his smile was hard to miss. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver said he’s learning – and appreciates – the art of superspeedway racing. And despite crashes in two of his three Cup races at the Daytona track, he looks forward to this style of competition. He finished ninth in his only summer Cup start here last year.

“It’s something different,” he said with a grin. “I think it’s kinda fun to come and have a change, to do something different than what we do every week.

“For me, the 500 this year was probably the most challenging superspeedway race I’ve been in from this point – the way the cars drove and tough to handle. It made it challenging. The July race is always fun being around the holiday and seeing the celebration and what’s going on. It’s a good time.”

“It does open the door up to new winners,” he continued. “You never know whose going to win the superspeedway races. It’s the same shot for everybody and it’s really not like that anywhere else.

“It’s neat to see guys running up front you don’t normally see there, you’re mixing it up with guys you don’t always race with week in and week out. It’s always interesting to see who’s going to come out on top. It’s a big change up from the normal guys that are running up front. The strategy you try to employ works out sometimes but not very often. It seems like it gets kind of a wild ending with what happens in these races and that’s what makes it so fun.”

In the meantime, Jones said he’s already been preparing for next week’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway road course in California’s scenic wine country.

He will arrive there ranked a highly respectable 14th in the Cup standings with five top-10s on the season – nearly twice as many as he had at this point in his rookie 2017 season. His best showing of 2018 is a fourth-place at Texas, where he led 64 laps.

And Jones has already been doing his road course homework to prepare for Sonoma. The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota spent a full day on course getting tips from a driver’s coach. And, Jones, reminded, although he finished 25th in his maiden Sonoma Raceway Cup start last year, he does like road course racing and does have a Camping World Truck Series win at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park back in 2015.

“Sonoma is a tough track,” allowed Jones, who celebrated his 22nd birthday two weeks ago. “That’s probably the toughest track I’ve ever been to. I went and did a lot of work before Watkins Glen and we ran well at Watkins Glen. I feel comfortable on a road course, it’s just that Sonoma is very challenging, very technical – one of the most technical tracks we go to all year, oval or road course.

“I went in a little blind last year. My first laps ever on the track were for practice (race weekend.) Fortunately this year, I’ll have more.”

And, Jones reiterated, he likes the change how the schedule mixes up all competitive venues.

“They’re fun,” he said. “It’s just so different. You’re working hard behind the wheel and as good as everyone’s gotten on the road courses, it’s never easy.

“The veterans been there so many times and are so talented on these tracks. Road courses are very fun and was fortunate to have success in trucks on them and that gave me a good opinion of them.”

WHO’s NEXT

The Xfinity Series continues to see a new look in Victory Lane this season and is on track to match or exceed a record for number of different winners. There have been 12 winners in the first 13 races. Monster Energy Cup driver Brad Keselowski, the only repeat winner so far. The series record is 18 different winners in a season set back 1988 and 2017.

Only three 2018 race champs are entered in Sunday’s Iowa 250 presented by Enogen (5 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – Justin Allgaier (Dover), Christopher Bell (Richmond) and Tyler Reddick (Daytona).

There is precedence for the track to crown a first-time winner. Both William Byron and Ryan Preece picked up their career first Xfinity wins at Iowa last year.

KEEP ON WINNING

Johnny Sauter’s victory at Texas last weekend was his fourth in the first eight races of the 2018 season and his fifth win on the Texas Motor Speedway 1.5-mile high banks.

Going back to the 2017 season, Sauter has won six of the past 11 races and amazingly finished in the top-three, in 10 of those. Only three drivers in history have recorded four or more wins through the opening eight races – Kyle Busch and Mike Skinner.

The 40-year old Sauter has yet to win at Iowa Speedway, where the series races Saturday in the M&M’s 200 presented by Casey’s General Store (7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). He has a pair of runner-up finishes including 2017 – his seventh top-five at the track.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Toyota/Save Mart 350

The Place:  Sonoma Raceway

The Date: Sunday, June 24

The Time: 3 p.m. ET

TV: FS1

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 218.9 miles (110 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 25),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 50), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 110)

What to Watch For: Clint Bowyer’s win last weekend at Michigan gave his Stewart-Haas Racing team its seventh trophy of the season. Only two other times have teams won more through the opening 15 races of the season in the last two decades. Hendrick Motorsports won 10 in 2007 and Roush Fenway Racing won eight in 2005. … SHR driver Kevin Harvick is the defending winner at Sonoma, Raceway. The last four drivers to score a victory in the Cup Series this season are the last four active drivers to win at Sonoma. … There have been 11 different winners in the last 12 races. Kyle Busch is the only repeat winner (2008 and 2015). …Jeff Gordon is the last driver to win consecutive races (1998-2000). … Kyle Busch led 78 of 112 laps in his 2008 win – the most laps led in the past 10 years. His older brother Kurt is next on the list, leading 76 laps en route to his 2011 victory.  … Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray are the top qualifiers at Sonoma in the past decade. Each has won two pole positions in that time. McMurray tops all active drivers with three pole positions. …Gordon (five) and retired driver Tony Stewart (three) are the all-time winningest drivers at Sonoma.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Iowa 250

The Place: Iowa Speedway (Newton, Iowa)

The Date: Sunday, June 17

The Time: 5 p.m. ET

TV: FS1

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 218.75 miles (250 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on lap 250)

What to Watch For: Veteran Elliott Sadler continues to lead the points standings, however the JR Motorsports driver finished outside the top-10 for the first time this season last Saturday at Michigan. .. Elliott leads Cole Custer by 41 points and Daniel Hemric by 45 points. … Good news for Elliott is that he is the series all-time best at Iowa in earning pole positions (three), top-fives (seven) and top-10s (13). … GMS Racing driver Justin Haley, 19, and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Riley Herbst, 24, will be making their series debuts at Iowa. … Austin Cindric and Kaz Grala will be making their track debuts this week. Grala led laps last week at Michigan and put in a dramatic 12th-place finish and after leading laps (five) for the first time in the series. He is making the final of his scheduled four starts with the Fury Race Cars team and hoping runs like he had at Michigan will convince a company to back the team farther into the schedule. … Tyler Reddick leads Christopher Bell by 17-points in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contest. … Keselowski won the first ever Xfinity Series race at Iowa in 2009. He and Ricky Stenhouse Jr lead all drivers with three wins each.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Next Race: M&M’s 200

The Place: Iowa Speedway (Newton, Iowa)

The Date: Saturday, June 16

The Time: 7 p.m. ET

TV: FS1

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 175 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

What to Watch For: Johnny Sauter’s four wins this season have given him a commanding lead on the field. Noah Gragson is 77 points behind and Iowa native Brett Moffitt is 95 back. … Two-time series champ Matt Crafton is still looking for his first season victory. He has won at least once every year since 2012. He is currently fifth in the points. … Last week’s runner-up, Canadian Stewart Friesen will be making his Iowa Speedway debut. … Rookie Todd Gilliland, 18, led a career best 62 laps en route to his sixth-place finish at Texas last weekend. He had only led one lap in his career prior to that. … John Hunter Nemechek is the defending winner of the race. … Fifteen of the 35 drivers entered this weekend will be making their track debut.

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