Logging laps on new surface could pay off for Jones, Blaney

Collectively, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney don’t have a much experience at Texas Motor Speedway.

Logging laps on new surface could pay off for Jones, Blaney
Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, takes the checkered flag
Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Ryan Blaney, Team Penske Ford and Darrell Wallace Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford and Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, celebrates after winning the Xfinity race in Texas
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and Brandon Jones, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske Ford
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske Ford
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske Ford Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford

But then again, neither do most of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers on the newly-repaved 1.5-mile track.

What Jones and Blaney had, however, was the opportunity to log laps under race conditions during Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. And with his victory in the 300-miler, Jones became the only NASCAR driver to boast wins under both the old and new configurations.

“The first time I came here, it’s funny, it really wasn’t that good to me, but after that, it just kind of clicked and I felt really good here ever since,” Jones said. “The repave was really treacherous to start the weekend, and this is a nice way to bounce back for myself after going to a backup the other day in the Cup car.”

Jones made his second-career Cup start at Texas in 2015, subbing for the suspended Matt Kenseth. He qualified sixth and finished 12th. On Friday, Jones wrecked his primary car during the second half of the first Cup practice. Jones didn’t miss a beat in the Xfinity race. He qualified second and went on to score his second career win in the Lone Star State.

Assessing the new surface

When asked which track surface he preferred, Jones offered a politically correct answer.

“How can I say I don’t like this one? We’ve won a race on it now,” Jones said. “I like both of them so far. This is definitely more challenging, especially since the weekend started, getting it worked in.”

With his victory, Jones, 20, has a remarkable record of five top-five finishes and an average finish of 2.4 at TMS. He started on the front row in four of the five races (qualified third in the other race), completed every lap and led 226 of 1,000 laps raced.

The preferred lane

After leading 112 of 200 laps in the Xfinity race, Jones expects the inside lane will be the preferred lane when it comes to restarts in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 on Sunday.

“It’s going to be a big deal,” Jones said. “As the day went on, I know we didn’t have a ton of restarts there, and we ran the race out under green, but that last restart there we were fourth and I believe we cycled out fifth so the top was kind of coming around. You’re not going to get up there and pass people, but you could maintain.

“I started passing some lapped cars up there as the race went on. It came around and it’s only going to get better tonight (with school cars and tire dragging to widen the groove). Hopefully, they drag the top lane, but it got a lot better today and with Cup cars running on it tomorrow, it’s only going to continue to get better and better, but it (the inside lane) will be important.”

Blaney has four Cup starts at Texas, but it wasn’t until last fall that he actually finished on the lead lap with a 12th-place finish. His Xfinity Series results are superior. In five races, he’s completed every lap and has an average finish of 3.8. On Saturday, Blaney scored his second runner-up result and his third top-five finish.

Changing track conditions

Blaney absorbed a lot of information throughout the Xfinity race that will transfer to Sunday’s event.

“The track changed a lot in the second half of the race,” Blaney said. “The beginning of the race was treacherous at the top. I think me and Erik fell back to eighth and ninth from 2nd and 4th just trying not to go anywhere and wreck.

“I feel like that came in a little to where it wasn’t as deadly up there from passing lap cars. You get stuck behind a lapped car, and you can’t pass them for a lap or so, and that part was tough. They don’t want to leave the line and get in the dust either, so you have to kind of wait and just time it right.

“Personally I learned a lot for (Sunday's) race. I think it will be very helpful. I was really thankful to run this race to get some laps. That part was good. We have a (competition) meeting here in a bit, so I will have some comments for that.”

Other Cup drivers benefitting from double duty this weekend included Kevin Harvick, who finished third, Austin Dillon (fourth), Ty Dillon (eighth) and Joey Logano, who finished 34th after his engine failed 145 laps into the event.

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