INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
Independence nearly matc ... »
| || |
NEWTON — Erik Jones finally got to put one all together at Iowa Speedway.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has had fast cars, qualified up front and led laps at the 7/8-mile track in Newton every time he’s visited — in both the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series — but in his three previous NXS races, either had to start from the back and couldn’t make it all the way forward, or saw circumstances get in his way.
In Saturday night’s U.S. Cellular 250, though, the 20 year-old Michigan native was not going to be denied. He passed Ty Dillon with 10 laps to go and took home his third NXS win of the season, and his first in the series at Iowa Speedway.
“The Xfinity Series here has been tough for me. The Truck Series always seemed to go smooth and we were able to pick up a couple wins in the Truck Series here,” Jones said. “This is the first time I got to start not from the back, so that was a nice part of the night, just getting to start where we qualified. It was definitely cool to put it all together. I like Iowa, and it’s cool to finally get a win.
“We had this marked down as a place where we’d challenge for a win. … It’s nice to get a win here tonight. It’s a cool place for me and one I love coming to.”
Jones led 154 of the 250 laps in a second dominating effort this season for JGR, which got a win in June in the American Ethanol 250 with Sam Hornish Jr.
JGR has won 13 of the 19 races this season in the Xfinity Series, including six of the last seven, dominating the season with a variety of drivers. It’s put the team as the clear group to beat and put a significant target on their backs.
In the closing segment of the race, it looked like the JGR party was going to be broken up. Dillon led 83 laps, and had control into the late stages, but ultimately couldn’t hold off Jones.
The grandson of team owner Richard Childress, Dillon hasn’t won since 2014 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — still his only Xfinity Series win — and said that’s been on the front of his mind since. Still, his effort will be to “let it hurt” until he pulls out of the infield and heads back to North Carolina.
“There’s been so many highs and lows every race since (Indianapolis),” Dillon said. “I felt it tonight. We were so close. But the thing is we’re showing we can do it. If we keep running like this it’s going to happen. It’s definitely going to hurt, but you’ve got to be able to look to the next track. So that’s why I said as soon as we get out of here, I’m over it.”
The victory also marked the first for Jones at the NASCAR level since his father died June 7 after a battle with cancer.
Jones hasn’t talked much publicly about his father’s death, citing his family’s privacy, but acknowledged Saturday night that the win was certainly an emotional one not having his dad there to celebrate.
“It’s pretty special,” Jones said. “In a way, it’s special for me to get back to Victory Lane without him. I know he’s riding along with us, and it’s hard not to think this one was for him. I definitely wish he could be here to celebrate with us, but he’s definitely smiling on us tonight.”
Jones was already locked into the Xfinity Series Chase for the Championship, but adding another win proves he’s a prime contender to win the whole thing.
He certainly sees the opportunity he has in front of him and that the timing for his team couldn’t be better.
“It’s full steam ahead for me. I wish we could have more wins, honestly. I think we look at our team and where we are with JGR as a whole and know we should be contending for wins every week,” Jones said. “For myself personally, I’ve been able to sit back and look at how fortunate I have been the last few years. I’ve always been fortunate to be in really good equipment. That’s not something every driver is lucky enough to have.
“There’s not many times a driver gets to show up to the racetrack knowing he’s going to have a shot to win every week.”
l Comments: (319) 368-8884; firstname.lastname@example.org