NASCAR: Erik Jones set for Nationwide debut this weekend in Chicago

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After winning last weekend’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway, 18-year-old Erik Jones is hoping to keep the momentum going this Saturday in his Nationwide Series debut at Chicagoland Speedway.

But Jones also acknowledges that Saturday’s EnjoyIllinois.com 300 is going to be a “pretty big step” up for him.

“At first, I’m just going to be looking to make laps and get to the end of the race and hopefully running up in the top 10,” Jones said today in a NASCAR teleconference.

“At the end of the day, we’re all race car drivers and we all want to go for the win. I think we’ll be challenging hard to do all we can to run up front and contend, and at the end of the day, I hope we’ll be up there.

“I know we’ve got great equipment and a great team. I’m pretty excited to see what it’s all going to bring.”

Saturday’s race is the first of three Nationwide races this season for Jones in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He’ll also run it at Bristol in August and at Phoenix in November.

JGR Sprint Cup driver Matt Kenseth has made the bulk of the starts in the No. 20 Nationwide machine this year (five Top-5s and nine Top-10s in 11 starts). It’s a solid ride, which will raise expectations a bit for Jones.

But it’s not like he isn’t used to that. The No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra that he drives part-time in the Truck Series (and won with last weekend in Iowa) won the 2013 owner’s championship. This season, Busch himself has won all five of his Truck Series starts in the No. 51.

But for this weekend, Jones will seek to learn everything he can from his JGR veteran teammates about dealing with the challenges of Chicagoland, which are quite different from the ones that he’s encountered on the short tracks.

“All my background is short track racing,” Jones said. “I haven’t had a lot of experience with racing on a mile-and-a-half with how the air works and all that. But definitely, my mindset is open to just trying to take advice from my teammates.

“I’ve got two great teammates there in Elliott Sadler and Sam Hornish that will be there, so definitely going to lean on them a lot and hopefully get a lot of information out of them as to what they do on these tracks and how they race and just try to learn from them.

“They’ve obviously done it a lot longer than I have, and just hopefully I can learn a lot from them and go into the race and learn a lot and come out a better driver than I was.”

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.

Results are below. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama rolls off at 3:00 p.m. ET.