Monday, June 22, 2009

P.J. Loses Power Steering at Sonoma

P.J. Jones picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his career in Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 at the Infineon Raceway when his #04 Jim Beam / Menard’s Toyota fell out with power steering problems after completing 2 of the race’s 113 laps.

Jones, a NASCAR Sprint Cup “road ringer” with 26 series starts coming into Sunday’s race, has worked closely with owner-driver Robby Gordon as a relief driver. Jones wasn’t tabbed as a “road ringer” for any of the other Sprint Cup teams coming into Sonoma, so Gordon fielded a second Toyota for Jones on Thursday. This made Jones a “post-entry,” that is, even if he qualified, Jones would not score any points in Sunday’s race because the entry was filed after the deadline had lapsed.

A wild qualifying session on Friday saw full-time rookie Scott Speed slide off course in Turn 10 and fellow road racer Brian Simo blow the engine during their qualifying laps. This made Jones’ lap of 91.425 mph good enough to beat five “go-or-go-home” drivers, including Speed and Simo, granting Jones the 37th starting spot. When the green flag waved on Sunday, Jones made an unscheduled stop right after completing the first lap. After some repairs, Jones returned to the track, only to slow in the Esses and go behind the wall, having lost his power steering. 2009 last-place finish leader Dave Blaney went behind the wall on the same lap, but the lap Jones lost put him one lap behind Blaney and, thus, became the last-place finisher.

It was the first last-place finish for Jones in almost five years, dating back to his first-ever last-place finish driving for Don Arnold in the 2004 Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono. In terms of laps completed, Jones has completed the fewest laps of any driver in any points race this season, besting Todd Bodine’s three laps completed in this spring’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville. (That finish, however, is still the season record holder for fewest miles completed).

The race also marked the third time that the #04 has finished last in the 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup races held at the Infineon Raceway. The previous two last-place finishes occurred with ageless veteran Hershel McGriff behind the wheel in the 1990 and 1993 runnings. Jones and McGriff share a few other historical coincidences as a result of Sunday’s race. The 1993 event was McGriff’s final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start and, until now, that race was also the last time the #04 had qualified for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Sonoma. This same weekend when Jones got the #04 back into the show, McGriff attempted his return to NASCAR competition by trying to qualify for the Bennett Lane Winery 200, a NASCAR Camping World West Series race, also held at Infineon.

43) #04-P.J. Jones / 2 laps / power steering
42) #66-Dave Blaney / 3 laps / rear end
41) #02-Brandon Ash / 94 laps / crash
40) #43-Reed Sorenson / 99 laps / running
39) #12-David Stremme / 101 laps / overheating

1st) Dave Blaney (3)
2nd) Mike Bliss, David Gilliland, Tony Raines (2)
3rd) Todd Bodine, Patrick Carpentier, P.J. Jones, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Joe Nemechek (1)

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