Jones claims pole in Ve­gas

To­day's race kicks off the first of 10 post­sea­son runs

Texarkana Gazette - - SPORTS - By Greg Beacham

LAS VE­GAS—Erik Jones sur­prised the field by win­ning the pole Fri­day for the open­ing race of the NASCAR Cup se­ries play­offs, turn­ing a lap in 28.705 sec­onds and nar­rowly edg­ing Joey Logano.

Jones opened the first week­end of NASCAR's 10-race post­sea­son by earn­ing his sec­ond ca­reer pole in his Joe Gibbs Rac­ing Toy­ota. The 22-year-old is the youngest driver ever to win the pole at Las Ve­gas Mo­tor Speed­way.

"You can't start them off any bet­ter than that," Jones said. "We've got a long way to go this week­end, but we've got the speed to do it. ... Was it maybe un­ex­pected to out­siders, or peo­ple that aren't in our group? Prob­a­bly, but we've been con­sis­tently set­ting the bar

high. For us, it was not a big sur­prise to be quick.”

Logano did his lap in 28.708 sec­onds in his Team Penske Ford to take a front-row spot. Denny Ham­lin was third, fol­lowed by Kyle Busch and Kevin Har­vick.

The Ve­gas race is the first of 10 play­off con­tests to crown a cham­pion. Jones is in the 16-driver play­off field for the first time, join­ing Alex Bow­man as the de­but play­off con­tenders for the ti­tle.

Jones had just one pre­vi­ous pole in his first 65 Cup races, but the young­ster is qui­etly mak­ing progress. He earned his first ca­reer vic­tory at Day­tona in July by hold­ing off Martin Truex Jr. in over­time, and he has six top-10 fin­ishes in eight races since that break­through.

“We strug­gled at the start (of the season),” Jones said. “Around Day­tona, I started to find the feel I was look­ing for, and we just re­fined that day by day, week by week.”

Jones knows he isn’t a fa­vorite to earn a spot among the fi­nal four con­tenders for the ti­tle along­side pre­sump­tive fron­trun­ners Kyle Busch, Kevin Har­vick and Martin Truex

Jr., but he hopes to ride his mo­men­tum as far as it will go.

“I would say there’s prob­a­bly a few dark horses” for the ti­tle, Jones said. “I don’t think we’re the only ones. The Big Three are ob­vi­ously the fa­vorites to get to (the fi­nal race in) Home­stead, but some­body has got to fill that other spot.”

Logano’s re­sult also was a pleas­ant de­vel­op­ment for a driver with a play­off spot de­spite earn­ing just one vic­tory this season. Logano laughed when asked if his strong show­ing in qual­i­fy­ing, com­bined with Brad Ke­selowski’s back-to­back wins head­ing into Ve­gas, meant that Team Penske had made a break­through in the garage in re­cent weeks.

“If they did, they didn’t tell me,” Logano said. “I think you’re con­stantly try­ing to find stuff. You’re con­stantly try­ing to catch up. We’ve been play­ing catch-up for the last year, two years. It’s nice to fi­nally find a light at the end of the tun­nel. I’m cau­tious about what it can be, but it’s a good start.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

■ Erik Jones drives dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing Fri­day for a NASCAR Cup Se­ries auto race at Las Ve­gas Mo­tor Speed­way in Las Ve­gas. Jones won the pole po­si­tion.

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