NASCAR Cup Series
Can Non-Playoff Drivers Contend Over Final 10 Races?
Sep 2, 2023
As the field came to the green flag for the final restart of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series event at Kansas Speedway, Erik Jones sat on the outside of the front row, and arguably had a chance at winning the Hollywood Casino 400.
The No. 43 Allegiant Chevrolet had speed throughout the afternoon, as well, with Jones finishing sixth in the race’s second stage, and placing himself inside the top five throughout much of the second half of the event.
It’s race-pace that the No. 43, much less LEGACY MOTOR CLUB, has lacked this year, with Jones carrying the bright spots of what has been a disappointing season for the newly rebranded organization.
Plus, with the pace that Jones showed on Sunday, comes the ability to think outside of the box when it comes to strategy calls, which is exactly what Dave Elenz, second-year crew chief on the No. 43, got the opportunity to do.
When the ninth and final caution – which flew for a wounded Chris Buescher – was displayed, Elenz elected to bring Jones to the pits for only two tires, while much of the top-15 runners elected to strap on four.
As a result, the No. 43 was the first driver off pit road and would have had control on the restart, if Daniel Suarez, who had stretched his final green-flag pit stop out an extra 10-plus laps, didn’t stay on track.
On the final restart, which was deemed as NASCAR Overtime, it was Suarez and Jones on the front row, with fellow two-tire strategy drivers Joey Logano and Kyle Busch on the second row. Then, from fifth place on back, the drivers took four tires.
Suarez would drop like a rock on the restart, as expected when on 30-lap old tires, which left Jones side-by-side with the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion for the lead, but unable to shake the Team Penske driver, which allowed Tyler Reddick to soar by on the frontstretch.
“Yeah, I just needed to clear the No. 22 in three and four, which I tried to do all I could,” said Jones. “It’s just when a guy gets loose under you and kind of runs you up, you get tight, too. So, I had to lift, and then the No. 45 obviously had a big run there.”
Despite a valiant effort to remain in the runner-up spot – with a major block on Denny Hamlin at the exit of turn two on the final lap – Jones would fade to third place, which despite being Jones’ best finish of the season, left the Byron, Michigan-native a bit disappointed.
“You’re going to be frustrated, but you’ve got to be happy with the run,” Jones continued post-race. “I think all day the Allegiant Chevrolet was fast, and we were up in contention. We were able to drive through the field a handful of times. It was a good day. It’s probably the fastest car we’ve had all year.”
The third-place result is the first-ever top-five for the No. 43 as an entry for LEGACY MOTOR CLUB, which added Jimmie Johnson as a co-owner of its two-entry NASCAR Cup Series team at the start of this season.
With back-to-back top-10s, there has certainly been an increase of pace for the organization, not just with the No. 43, but also the No. 42, who has scored its fourth and fifth top-20 finishes in the last two races, courtesy of Carson Hocevar
“Would have loved to sneak one out there, but our year has been up and down, and to have a good run like that is just a good day for the team."
The focus for LEGACY MOTOR CLUB now shifts to the remaining eight races of the season, where the team hopes to further build its notebook, in advance of a move to Toyota in 2024, with drivers Erik Jones and John Hunter Nemechek.
Photo Credit: Harold Hinson, HHP, Chevy Racing