Top dog: Eric Jones
Eric Jones and a team owned by Richard Petty have been down similar paths for the past two years. For Jones, it was the sound of fans wondering if he was a bust because he couldn’t shine under the lights of Joe Gibbs Racing like his teammates. For Petty GMS Motorsports, which was known as Richard Petty Motorsports from 2009 through 2021, the question was whether the team could return the 43rd to glory after years of financial troubles and lackluster results.
Turn the page on 2022 with Jones in his second season with the organization and a merger between GMS Racing and RPM, and he begins by answering both questions. Jones finished 13th in the top ten of the season by finishing 8th at the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (October 16).
Jones showed speed out of the truck, putting his No. 43 near the top of the board in Saturday’s practice, though he didn’t qualify for all of that well.
After starting at 22, Jones struggled with the balance of his car, only going one spot by the end of the stage. The car improved in the second stage as Jones climbed into the top ten at some point, but the end of the rounds affected his car. Jones finished the second stage in 18th place.
In what became the norm in 2022 in particular, the final phase was marked by strong restarts and closed calls. Crew chief Dave Ellens helped call for the right adjustments, and improved balance on #43 to face the slick track. Jones climbed into the top ten in the final stage, going toe-to-toe with several match drivers.
Two warnings in the final stage shuffled the field at the site of the rink, but the 26-year-old was able to take care of his car, allowing him to reach the top five by about 20 laps. By the end of the race, he was only short of two places to stay inside the top ten when the checkered flag dropped.
Jones’ top 10 matches match his final season total to JGR in 2020. He just needs one more to match the 14 he landed in the junior season with Furniture Row Racing. It’s also his third top-10 in the last four races, giving him four top-10 finishes in seven races despite his absence from the post-season.
For Petty GMS, the tag goes even deeper. While GMS has merged with the team, Jones only needs another one of the top 10 to tie the top 10 by a petty driver since 2009 when Kasey Kahne earned 14 such finishes. This was RPM’s first season after merging with Gillette Evernham Motorsports.
As non-playoff teams try to close 2022 hard and focus on 2023, this team will be ready to raise the bar next season.
It highlights the weak
If Kaulig Racing needs a little more verification to go with AJ Allmendinger as a full-time driver for next season’s #16 Championship Cup, he’s sure to get it. Dinger rushed to finish ninth, giving him five consecutive Top 10 appearances in the Cup.
The Allmendinger ran around the top fifteen for most of the race. Ryan Blaney’s warning with just over 30 laps allowed the Allmendinger to get four new tires, which turned out to be the right call under the extension. Two more cautions rounded up the field, allowing the Allmendinger to run methodically across the field and earn his seventh Top 10 in just 15 starts.
– Kaulig Racing (KauligRacing) October 16 2022
Given parity in 2022, there are no guarantees for 2023. But given Allmendinger’s prowess on the road, combined with his ability to fly under the radar for solid results, this is the driver I will be running in next season’s playoffs.
His Allmendinger teammate Justin Haley looked like he might carry his late season rise to a surprise win. After Blaney’s warning, Haley took two tires off to catapult him to the lead. The right track, clean air and a bit of luck seemed to be the right deck of cards for Haley, who led 16 laps.
At the start of the second half with 16 laps before, Haley battled Chase Briscoe for the lead when Ross Chastain Haley made meatballs into a sandwich. The fresher tires of the others were mixed with too much polluted air for the 31st seed, who slipped to 14th at the finish. Regardless, it was another moment of celebration as this young driver positions himself for a playoff game for next season’s playoffs.
In what has been a career year for Michael McDowell, 2023 will look (and will) look a lot different. Crew chief Blake Harris will leave the team after one season atop Box 34 to make calls to Alex Bowman at Hendrick Motorsports.
This is clearly an opportunity that is hard to miss, but it also marks the end of a fruitful partnership with McDowell. McDowell said expansion in June which – which”[Harris] I had all the right things, but chemistry and communication is tough. It just takes time.”
The two definitely found something that worked, giving McDowell his best season in the Cup yet. Now, in order for this progression to take it to the next level, it must come with a new caller shot. McDowell finished 19th in Las Vegas on a fairly quiet day.
Three underdogs had problems in the final stage. With just over 70 laps left, JJ Yeley cut a tire on his #15 and went on a run in the grass. Landon Castle was ranked 13th with just over 20 when he made a turn and retreated to the outer wall. Cassell reportedly had a toe linkage running through his radiator. Yeley finished 31st while Cassill finished 32nd respectively. Ty Dillon also had a DNF at number 33 after contact with the outer wall caused a suspension issue.
He says “we’re broke” Tweet embed 😔
His day would unfortunately end early after contacting the outer wall. pic.twitter.com/AFLcWO9nTT
– Petty GMS (PettyGMS) October 16 2022
The underdogs sound off
Jones (VIII): “We had a good, quiet day in Las Vegas with another solid top ten ranking. We had pace all weekend, didn’t qualify where we wanted, but were able to adapt to our Chevy race to improve throughout the day. We were there at the end. We just needed more to stand up front and be in a versatile position to win. We’ll be heading to Homestead next weekend where I feel we made gains in testing a few weeks ago and see what we can do.”
Allmendinger: “Overall, I felt it was a strong day for the #16 Chevrolet team. We struggled being a bit tight most of the day. The track situation was awkward and we lost that a few times. I was fairly happy with the speed we had. The car was fairly comfortable. It was We have one game where we got really lost but other than that we just fought up front. We had a good pace, which is something to build on when we get back to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March. Getting the other top 10 guys was really strong and I’m proud of both Both cars. Justin (Haley) was fast. We’ll keep working on that.”
Haley (XIV): “The warning came, and the tire circle is too tight to stay in the lead. Fuck a call from Trent Owens. It’s great to get up there and fight for the lead in the closing laps. Team Kaulig Racing’s kind of speed. We had a tough summer, but With AJ working with us, so much sim time at GM, we started to make headway. It’s very hard to put together a race team from the ground up. Takes time. So proud of everyone at Kaulig Racing. I got AJ in the top 10. Good runs We keep building this into the holiday season and hopefully next year will be a really good one.”
Dillon (33): “We had a good day in Las Vegas and were on our way to a strong race but we hit the wall late in the race and something broke in the suspension that ended our day early.”
Top 10 Underdog Moments Since 2000 – No. 4
Entering the 2002 UAW-GM Quality 500 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the championship image was shaken dramatically two weeks ago. Sterling Marlin had just lost his points lead two weeks ago, only to have his hopes completely derailed when he suffered a vertebral fracture at Kansas Speedway.
Team owners Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabatis put Young immigrant Jimmy McMurray at #40. What followed was similar to what the Dallas Cowboys had put the Cooper Rush in the fort for a sick starter just to back up to make their mark.
Despite Xfinity’s modest career at the time, McMurray achieved one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history. With past and future champions Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Jimmy Johnson and Kurt Busch leading a total of 187 laps, Joplin was a miss. He leads the race 96 laps.
Twisted traffic on the closing laps held up McMurray, allowing 2000 Cup champion Laponte to get close. But a rear bumper was all he could come up with, as McMurray held out for a win at the start of the Cup for only the second time. It was the fastest win in the modern era.
McMurray would earn a full-time ride in 2003, finishing 13th in points and winning the Rookie of the Year award. The 46-year-old has won seven races at the cup level.
small team racing chart
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. laid out a bright blueprint for the Las Vegas desert with Kona Brewing debuting at No. 47. The car was hard to miss at Neon Garage and on the track. Stenhouse spins in the second stage on restart but will recover to finish in 23rd place.
– JTG Daugherty Racing (JTGRacing) October 16 2022
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