For a Michigan guy, Erik Jones has made himself at home in Texas.
He had a ceremonial high school graduation at Texas Motor Speedway in June 2014, won his first career Xfinity Series race here in the 2015 spring race and earned a truck win later that fall.
And, on Saturday, Jones became the seventh driver to win multiple Xfinity Series races at Texas. Jones pulled away from the field to take the checkered flag in the My Bariatric Solutions 300, continuing his impressive run at TMS.
Jones won this race in 2015 and hasn’t finished worse than fourth in all five of his Xfinity races at Texas. He’ll look to carry that into Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, where he’ll start 36th in a backup car.
“It’s been a good track for me,” said Jones, driving the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. “The first time I came here actually was my graduation and that wasn’t really a great day [finishing 11th in the truck race]. I didn’t think it was going to be a track I was going to enjoy. But ever since then, man, it kind of clicked.”
Added Gibbs: “Can’t say enough about Erik this year. He’s killing it right now and just thrilled to be a part of it.”
Jones had the dominant car from the start. He won Stage 1, taking the lead on Lap 20 through Lap 48. He went on to lead two other times, including the final 45 laps.
Jones led a race-high 112 laps for his seventh career Xfinity Series win.
Ryan Blaney led 43 laps and finished second, and Kevin Harvick was third. Only nine cars finished on the lead lap, the fewest since a track-record-low eight in the fall 2006 race.
Cup regular Joey Logano started on the pole, but engine issues forced him to park his No. 12 Ford with 55 laps to go. Logano led for 19 laps.
“We dropped a valve or something like that. Maybe lost a cylinder,” Logano said. “It is unfortunate because we were running third and really good on the long run.”
But the takeaway from the Xfinity race is how the new racing surface fared after its first official race, and it did all right for the most part.
Daniel Hemric, seventh in the Xfinity Series point standings, spun in Turn 2 early on and finished 28 laps down.
The race was also red-flagged early for 4 minutes, 27 seconds after Casey Mears’ car leaked oil.
The biggest incident happened shortly after that on Lap 65 with a five-car pileup.
Tyler Reddick started it when he made contact with Bubba Wallace. Daniel Suarez, Justin Allgaier and Tyler Reddick were also involved.
So was Texan Brennan Poole, who sustained the most damage. Poole saw his day end with a 37th-place run.
For Jones, the new surface and configuration was just fine.
“How can I say I did not like this one?” Jones said, smiling. “This is definitely more challenging. But it’s a nice bounce back over the weekend here of getting a win today [after wrecking his primary Cup car in Friday’s practice]. Got a long ways to go tomorrow, but it’s hard to say I don’t like this track so far.”
TMS will continue to work rubber into the asphalt before Sunday’s Cup race.
The Team Texas stock cars were scheduled to give rides from 6:30 p.m.-10 p.m. followed by TMS’ “Texas Tire Monster” and Kentucky Speedway’s “Tire Dragon” running until 1 a.m.
The “Texas Tire Monster” and “Tire Dragon” are expected to resume running at 6 a.m. Sunday until the beginning of pre-race activities.
“I was talking to Erik Jones and he said Turns 1 and 2 got really good. He passed cars on the outside two-wide and it’s coming in,” TMS president Eddie Gossage said. “Turns 3 and 4, on the other hand, are treacherous. So it is acting like new pavement, which is terrible.
“But everyone understands we did a lot to it to get to this point, and we still are and that’s the story.”