Erik Jones takes first career Truck pole — and does it in first time racing on dirt — for MudSummer Classic at Eldora

Leave a comment

Before Wednesday, the only dirt Erik Jones ever raced on was back in the tiny rural town he grew up in, little Byron, Mich., population 561.

And that was typically racing on two feet – as in foot races.

But Jones has taken to racing on dirt – on four wheels – quite nicely, thank you.

Not only was he the fastest driver in Wednesday’s first of two practices, he also earned the pole for that evening’s main event, the MudSummer Classic at Eldora Speedway with a speed of 90.393 mph, one of only two drivers to exceed 90 mph.

In addition, not only is the MudSummer event the first experience on dirt for the 18-year-old rookie, it also marked his first career pole in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competition.

When asked by Fox Sports 1 what would he think the chances would be of his earning his first pole on a dirt track, Jones was frank.

“Pretty low. I had no idea,” Jones said.

Things didn’t go so well on his first of two qualifying laps: he and his Toyota Tundra went for a 180-degree spin.

He quickly recovered, came back around and got it right on his second run around the half-mile track in western Ohio in his Kyle Busch Motorsports truck.

“We spun out on the first lap and then came back and made another lap and it was good enough for the pole,” Jones said. “We were pushing hard for that one lap, the track was good early, so we took the most that we could out of our Toyota Tundra and it worked.”

There will be five 10-lap heat races, followed by a “last chance” heat, and then the 150-lap main event (split into 60, 50 and 40 lap segments) will take the green flag tonight around 9 pm ET.

Jones is looking for his second straight NCWTS win. He won in the last race on the schedule nearly two weeks ago at Iowa Speedway.

As for the rest of Wednesday’s qualifying, 34 drivers took to the track.

Mason Mingus, who was second-fastest in both the first and second practice sessions earlier in the day, was also second-fastest in qualifying, the only other driver to exceed 90 mph (at 90.312 mph).

Ron Hornaday Jr. (89.888 mph) was third-fastest, followed by NWCTS points leader Matt Crafton (89.557), Ken Schrader (89.508), Darrell Wallace Jr. (89.423), Jeb Burton (89.410), Chase Pistone (89.308), Timothy Peters (89.052) and Bryan Silas rounded out the top 10 at 89.030 mph.

Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson was 11th-fastest (88.766 mph), followed by John Wes Townley (88.744), Tyler Reddick (88.951, Ryan Blaney (88.426) and Tyler Young (89.274).

Last year’s MudSummer Classic winner, Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon, qualified 19th (86.613 mph), while brother Ty was 24th-fastest (86.990).

The slowest driver of record was 31st-fastest Michael Affarano (81.389 mph). Jennifer Jo Cobb made two runs but they were not scored. Two other drivers failed to take qualifying runs: T.J. Bell and Jared Landers.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

Getty Images
Leave a comment

If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.