Erik Jones to make Nationwide Series debut at Chicagoland next month

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Erik Jones will look at Chicago in a totally different way for the rest of his life in a little less than a month from now.

For it will be in the Windy City that the young NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver will make his Nationwide Series debut in the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19.

It will be the first of three NNS starts Jones will make during the second half of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 20 JGR NNS Toyota Camry. He’ll also race Aug. 22 at Bristol and Nov. 8 at Phoenix.

“(I have) high expectations for all three races,” Jones said in a team media release. “I’m really excited about the opportunity to run some Nationwide races this year with Joe Gibbs Racing.”

A native of tiny Byron, Michigan (halfway between Flint and East Lansing), Jones will be the sixth different driver in the No. 20 this season. Matt Kenseth has made the most appearances behind its wheel (nine), with one appearance each by Sam Hornish Jr., Michael McDowell, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Daniel Suarez.

Jones, who just turned 18 on May 30, has made just three starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the No. 51 Toyota Tundra in the NCWTS this season, with a best finish of 11th at Texas.

He was leading late in last Saturday’s race at Gateway Motorsports Park when he was hit from behind and spun out by German Quiroga Jr., leaving Jones with a disappointing 23rd-place finish.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had a little bit of bad luck in the (Camping World) Truck Series and then one where we just weren’t on our game,” told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It hasn’t gone quite like we’d hoped this year, but Gateway was definitely a big step for us. It does make me feel good that I got this opportunity and really felt like we accomplished something in the Truck Series to make it happen.”

Jones has made a total of eight NCWTS starts in his short career, including being the youngest winner in series history last year at Phoenix. All told, Jones has one win, two top-10 finishes and five top-10 showings in those eight starts.

“Being in the Nationwide Series, it’s really such another level, but it’s one that I’ve been wanting to get on now for so long,” Jones said. “It’s a series that you look at as definitely the next step on the development ladder. To have my opportunity and my shot at going out there and running those races with those guys is pretty special.”

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Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.