By Cole Cusumano
After weeks of speculation, simulator training and accepting the unknown, the NASCAR Xfinity Series made its highly anticipated debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course. Following an impressive runner-up finish by Ty Gibbs in the ARCA Menards Series, his grandfather’s prestigious team was able to replicate some magic in the UNOH 188.
The young Joe Gibbs Racing team put together their second collective top-10 outing in the last three races — even more impressively, in a day they were able to overcome adversity throughout a hectic event. Since the organization’s blistering start to the season was halted by COVID-19, it’s been a battle of inconsistency and unfortunate circumstances that have plagued the Toyota camp.
We’ve come a long way since Harrison Burton laid claim the trio could be the next ‘Big Three’, and while that’s not on the spectrum of reality for 2020, he’s been the only one able to maintain his composure and stability since NASCAR’s return.
The driver of the No. 20’s luck quickly turned awry once his 12-race top-10 streak was snapped, but after securing three top-10s over the last four races, including his first on a road course, the 19-year-old seems to be finding his footing again.
“I was learning the track, and I feel like once I got the hang of it, we were not quick enough to win, but we were quick enough to finish third or fourth,” Burton said after placing eighth. “We ran third for quite a bit of the day. That’s an improvement for me on a road course, especially in a road course at a Roval. Good to kind of run a little better. Still need to get a lot more speed to be faster than (Austin) Cindric, (Chase) Briscoe and (AJ) Allmendinger, but we made a step in the right direction.”
Fresh off his first ARCA win of the season, Riley Herbst backed up his successful day at Michigan International Speedway with a seventh-place finish at the 14-turn Roval. Having one of the more eventful days in the field, this was definitely a step in the right direction for the No. 18 team.
“We drove up to fourth, and then I wasn’t using my head and spun out in the bus stop,” Herbst said. “I prepared a lot for this track, hoping to get a good finish and I was in a position to have a good finish. My team put me in a good position to have a good finish and I didn’t capitalize on it.”
While dissatisfied with his results, this marked Herbst’s 10th top-10 and he picked up much needed stage points to gain ground in the standings. He’s got a long way to go before being considered a serious contender, but this should provide some momentum as the regular season winds down.
The most impressive run for the Toyota stable came from Brandon Jones, who finished runner-up and remained a contender all day. Although, things didn’t start off too promising for the No. 19 team after electing to use rain tires in the opening laps.
“We started running really good lap times when we got stickers on the race car,” Jones said. “We kind of maintained that all day, stayed on track all day, made sure that we made no mistakes — there were a couple times where I had some wheel-hop, but never had any front lock-up, never once went off the track. I think all those things, it eventually paid off.”
Since his rough-patch of failing to finish above 30th from Pocono Raceway to Kentucky Speedway, Jones appears to be heating up. He’s made his presence known over the last four races and even picked up his second win of the season at Kansas Speedway — a track the Xfinity Series will return to late in the playoffs.
With three races remaining until the playoffs, all three Gibbs cars should have a shot at the title-bid come Darlington Raceway. While it’s unlikely that anyone topples Cindric or Briscoe, Jones could be a worthy opponent to make things difficult for them. After all, his other victory this season came at the sight of the Championship, Phoenix Raceway.
Categories: NASCAR Xfinity Series