Rain pushed Saturday night’s Owens Corning AttiCat 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series event to Sunday morning, but not even Mother Nature could keep Daniel Suárez from recording his fifth top-10 finish of the 2015 season. The 23-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing rookie drove his No. 18 ARRIS Toyota Camry to a career-best finish at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, on an afternoon that saw him battle back from a near collision on pit road and lead the field for one lap.
Looking to bounce back from disappointing finishes his last two races – 19th at Dover International Speedway and 20th at Michigan International Speedway – Suárez began Sunday’s event from the seventh spot on the starting grid after another strong showing in Coors Light Pole Qualifying on Saturday. As soon as the green flag flew to start the event, the Monterrey, Mexico, driver was hard at work trying to improve his position. Through the first 25 laps, Suárez tried driving the same racing lines as the fastest cars on the track, but informed his team that his Camry felt too loose to run up top.
Crew Chief Eric Phillips decided to make some adjustments to the No. 18 ARRIS Toyota when it came down pit road during the competition caution on Lap 25 for Sunoco fuel and four Goodyear tires, giving his young driver a tighter machine for the Lap 31 restart. The adjustments paid off quickly for Suárez as he moved up from the 10th spot on the restart to eighth within one lap. As the green-flag laps piled up, Suárez continued his assault on the race leaders. He made his way to the sixth spot by Lap 73, and on Lap 77, as the leaders began to pit under green-flag conditions, the young driver found himself in the top spot for his first lap led in his last three starts.
Suárez faced his first challenge of the afternoon on Lap 78. As he brought his Camry down pit road under green, the NASCAR Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next program alum had to slam on the breaks in order to avoid a collision on pit road. The delay dropped Suárez to the 19th spot after the pit stop for fresh tires and fuel. After a caution on Lap 96, the rookie brought his No. 18 ARRIS Toyota back down pit road on Lap 100 for another adjustment, a fresh set of Goodyear tires and Sunoco fuel.
With 97 laps remaining after the Lap 103 restart, veteran spotter Chris Osborne told Suárez it was time to begin making his move and the driver wasted no time in getting to work. He moved up to the 12th spot by Lap 105. By Lap 110, Suárez was back in the top 10 and looking to keeping advancing. He was in the sixth spot when he brought his Camry down pit road on Lap 150 for what would turn out to be the final pit stop of the afternoon. After stopping for fresh tires and fuel, Suárez and the rest of the leaders were penalized for pitting while pit road was closed. That, however, did not stop the rookie from his quest to record a good result in the event. He battled back from the setback, running as high as sixth with 10 laps remaining, before ultimately settling for a sixth-place finish, his fifth top five of the season.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones won the Owens Corning AttiCat 300, his second NASCAR XFINITY Series checkered flag of the season. It was also the eighth top-10 series finish for the 19-year-old and came less than 48 hours after he won the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway. Ryan Blaney crossed the finish line 1.958 seconds behind Jones for his third top five in five starts this year. Austin Dillon finished third, followed by Brendan Gaughan and series’ points leader Chris Buescher. The event was slowed by seven cautions for 39 laps and saw 23 lead changes among 11 drivers.
The NASCAR XFINITY Series will have a week off before returning to action on July 4 for the Subway Firecracker 250 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway. Suárez and the No. 18 ARRIS Toyota Camry Joe Gibbs Racing team will look for the sixth top-10 finish of the season when the series visits the 2.5-mile superspeedway for the second time this year. Coverage begins at 7:30 pm ET on NBC Sports Network.
Daniel Suárez’s Post-Race Thoughts:
How was your race?
“It was a hard-fought top-10 finish in today’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race. We had some trouble on pit road where there was almost a collision, but we were able to avoid it and fought hard to score a seventh-place result. Overall, it was an OK weekend. We didn’t have the result we wanted on Saturday in the ARCA Series event, but on Sunday we worked really hard during the race to get better and better as the race went on. We were very competitive today and spent most of the event in the top 10. We learned a lot today and we just have to take that to our next race in two weeks and keep working on being consistent and getting better. I can’t thank my crew, ARRIS, Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing enough for all the effort and support.”
It was a special Father’s Day weekend for Matt Kenseth as his 22-year old son Ross Kenseth made his NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) debut at Chicagoland Speedway in the same No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry that his dad is known for. After two solid practice sessions, Ross scored the yellow and black Camry a front-row starting position for the Owens Corning AttiCat 300.
Shortly after the green flag waved, Ross told crew chief Mike Wheeler [Wheels] that his Camry was tight on throttle. NASCAR’s competition caution took place on lap 25 and Ross brought the Dollar General Camry down pit road for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment. On lap 76, the JGR crew made a green-flag pit stop for four tires, fuel and a small adjustment to give Ross more front grip through the corners. Shortly after rejoining the field, the yellow flag waved and the No. 20 car went a lap down. Fortunately, the lead-lap cars made their way to pit road, placing Ross in the 13th position after taking the wave around.
As another caution arose with 51 laps to go, the No. 20 Dollar General Camry was one of the fastest cars on the track. Wheels called Ross to pit road for a quick fuel-only pit stop and his strategy paid off when the No. 20 car rejoined the field as the leader. Soon after, however, chaos ensued as NASCAR ruled that pit road was not officially open, ultimately forcing 20+ cars to the back of the field after pitting too early. Despite the dismay, Ross restarted in 11th position and quickly worked his way back into the top 10.
With less that 25 laps remaining, strategy worked in the No. 20 team’s favor once again. When the caution flag waved, Wheels called Ross to pit road for four brand-new sticker tires, making the No. 20 Dollar General Camry the only car on the track with four fresh tires.
Restarting 15th after the final caution, Ross took advantage of his new tires and worked through the field like a true professional. The young rookie managed to gain nine spots in the final portion of the race, crossing the finish line in 6th position.
Ross Kenseth’s Post-Race Thoughts:
“This entire experience was great. I wanted that top-five finish so bad at the end, but sixth place is something we can all be proud of. Wheels, Chirs (Osborne, spotter) and the entire No. 20 team did a fantastic job all weekend. We battled a tight-handling Toyota Camry throughout the day, but Wheels made some positive adjustments and his strategy played out well at the end. I can’t thank everyone at Dollar General enough for this opportunity. To come out here on a one-off deal and get the results we did speaks wonders about our team. I hope we made everyone proud and I hope we get to do it again in the future.”
NASCAR’s XFINITY Series entered week fourteen of the 2015 season at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday for the Owens Corning Atticat 300 race event. After celebrating Tuesday with his first ARCA Series win at Berlin Raceway in Michigan, Jones went to to win his first 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win on Friday night in Iowa then traveled to Joliet, Illinois to qualify and race with the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota team in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Although heavy rain postponed the event until Sunday morning, and with limited track time from only a few qualifying laps, Jones took charge of his destiny and from an 11th-place starting spot he turned today’s Chicagoland race start into his second-career XFINITY Series win – accomplishing a SWEEP of sorts winning three of three motorsports events entered consecutively in one race week.
Two drivers drove the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry this weekend, contributing to the team’s win. While Erik Jones was in Iowa competing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Friday, fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Drew Herring practiced the Monster Energy Toyota in two Friday sessions. Ranked as high as third-quick on the speed chart, Herring and spotter confirmed “we’ve got ourselves one hell of a car.” After Jones completed the Truck Series race Friday night, by capturing his first Truck Series WIN of 2015, he flew to Chicago to debrief with the team about their fast Camry. In Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session on the two-mile oval, Jones quickly assimilated to the No. 54 car but determined a few adjustments would be needed once the race would start. Unfortunately, the race teams never had that opportunity to race Saturday night, as heavy thunderstorms rolled into the ‘windy city’ suburb of Joliet and caused the Chicagoland race to be postponed until Sunday morning.
Sunday’s start was only Jones’ 16th career XFINITY Series race over two seasons and his second attempt at Chicagoland Speedway where he achieved his first series start here one year ago. To date, as a part-time XFINITY series driver in 2015 Jones has now earned two wins, seven top-five finishes, eight top-10 finishes, three poles and 254 laps led. Jones currently averages a 4.5 start and 9.8 finish. While he runs a partial XFINITY Series schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing, Jones also competes full time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with team owner Kyle Busch and the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 4 Toyota team. During Friday night’s Iowa Speedway NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race action Jones earned his first season victory of the year in that series, one he has targeted to win the annual driver’s points championship in.
Finally able to hit the track Sunday morning, with clear skies overhead, everyone on the No. 54 team was excited for the race with Jones after coming off the Joe Gibbs Racing team’s first victory of the XFINITY Series season at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, one week before. While the Michigan victory came at the hand of veteran Monster Energy driver Kyle Busch, the team looked forward to and was confidant the young driver Busch had been mentoring, Jones, could achieve the same goal. At green-flag drop, Jones proved what many had seen, quickly making his way from 11th place at race start to second place by lap 24 when the field saw it’s first caution flag.
A visit to pit road included a small adjustment to the No. 54 Camry and service for fresh Goodyear tires and Sunoco Racing fuel. While Jones parked long in his pit box, there was difficulty maneuvering his pit road exit and Jones dropped to fifth place for race restart but didn’t stay there long. Jones reached the race lead at lap 39, what would ultimately contribute to his 3M Lap Leader Award at race end when he accomplished a race-high 94 laps led. Across five total pit road visits during the race, the team only made small adjustments back and forth, to maintain a good balance for Jones. At one point spotter Al Dirusso confirmed over the radio, “the only place they are making any ground on you Erik is the bottom of turn 3, everywhere else you are the best.” Jones would later reiterate, “my entry into turns 1-2 are so good right now, I have a lot of security in the car.”
The race didn’t come without hurdles, however, for the 19-year old XFINITY Series rookie. The most controversial moment occurred past the race halfway mark, when a yellow-flag caution waved and Jones, among most other competitors, brought his No. 54 Camry down pit road for service. NASCAR penalized the No. 54 team for visiting pit road when it wasn’t actually open, although there was a lot of ‘discussion’ by several teams to the contrary. Although the spotter heard from NASCAR “pit road open,” in the end NASCAR confirmed the red flag had not exhibited. So in fact 19 teams had incurred the penalty and would be placed further back in the field. While Jones was re-positioned into 9th place from the race lead, the setback didn’t deter him from working back towards the front. There were several on-track battles with fellow competitor Ryan Blaney in the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford. The No. 22 and No. 54 swapped lead positions several times through the race, including one pivotal swap at the end of the race, when Jones maneuvered past Blaney in the final eight laps of competition, allowing Jones to catch the checkered flag, a 1.98 second margin of victory.
Sunday’s XFINITY Series event recorded an average speed of 118.812mph and saw 23 lead changes across 11 drivers. There were seven caution periods over 39 laps of the 300-mile event.
With Sunday’s top-10 result the No. 54 Monster Energy team moves up to 8th-place in NASCAR’s Owner Championship Points Standings, now 88 markers behind the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford.
Next week the NASCAR XFINITY Series takes a hiatus then resumes competition on Saturday, July 4 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway which will be broadcast on NBC Sports at 7:30pm EST.
Erik’s Post-Race Thoughts:
“It’s pretty awesome to get this Monster Energy Toyota back to victory lane. It’s two weeks in a row for these guys. That’s three wins this week for me – that’s pretty awesome. It was a rough go for awhile, but we came back at it now. It’s just cool to be back here – thanks to Kyle Busch Motorsports for Friday, Joe Gibbs Racing for today and Port City Race Cars for Tuesday, XFINITY for doing this for us, the fans and – man, what a day, what a day. Thanks to Drew Herring who shook this thing down for us two days ago (in practice) and got it right and we took it to victory lane today. We’ll bask in this and take it in and get ready for the next one. Just an awesome week and I’m pretty proud of everyone involved.”
Chris Gayle (crew chief) Post-Race Thoughts:
“Two back to back victories is really cool, I think I talked last week about how this No. 54 team itself over the last couple of weeks is getting better. It’s assumed the No. 54 car will win with Kyle, and I understand that, Kyle’s great, there’s no comparison of him to most drivers out there. But that’s why I wanted to win one without Kyle to be able to say, guess what, the No. 54 can win with Kyle and without Kyle. It might win more with Kyle than some of the guys but Erik showed you today he can dominate the race and win with the same car.”