IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Jones

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. Top rookie was Ed Jones, who succeeded despite the lack of competition among freshmen drivers.

Ed Jones, No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: Indy Lights (champion)
  • 2017: 14th place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 8th, 1 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 14.4 Avg. Start, 14.2 Avg. Finish

Rookie Ed Jones had somewhat moderate expectations from the outside going into this season, but the Dubai-based Brit, who resides in Miami, grew up in a big way. He didn’t have another full-time rookie rival and he lost his teammate and setup guide in Sebastien Bourdais at midseason, but excelled anyway as a rock for the Dale Coyne Racing team in a tough year.

Jones had a paradoxical season where his best results came more from luck rather than great driving, and as his driving improved his results subsided. Nonetheless, Jones seized his opportunities when they were there and starred most during the month of May in Indianapolis, cast as the quiet, overlooked rookie in the face of Fernando Alonso-mania.

Finishing third after starting 11th in the Indianapolis 500, in his first ever large oval race in IndyCar, and given the team disparity at Coyne versus Andretti Autosport, was enough to garner some votes for the Speedway’s top rookie honors (including from this author). It turned heads and drew a lot of praise, including from runner-up Helio Castroneves who hailed Jones’ race craft and his ability to drive as well as he did with a wounded race car.

He didn’t finish that high again and owing to the winner-only celebration at Indianapolis, he hasn’t actually stood on an IndyCar podium yet even though he has a top-three finish – similar to JR Hildebrand prior to this year. But he was one of the season’s most pleasant surprises and proved Indy Lights remains an excellent training ground for IndyCar.

His ultimate reward came at season’s end when after Felix Rosenqvist (Formula E contract tie-up) and Brendon Hartley (roundabout reunion with Red Bull, racing for Toro Rosso in F1) fell through as candidates to take over Chip Ganassi’s No. 10 car, Jones earned the seat in a somewhat surprise move.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)