CORDELE, GA :: Erik Jones captured the pole for Sunday’s CRA Speedfest at Watermelon Capital Speedway but it wasn’t without some skepticism from the professional motorsports audience.
The soon-to-be Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie spun in Turn 3 during his warm-up lap and drove his car backwards around the track to the entrance of Turn 1. He then pointed his machine back in the right direction and turned-in two timed laps.
On a cold and windy evening in South Georgia, the spin was seemingly enough to warm up his tires, and take the No. 20 to the top of the charts. It immediately caused one team owner to yell “that’s bullshit” with rival NASCAR Speedfest invader Spencer Gallagher chiming in that it was intentional.
— Spencer Gallagher (@23SpeedRacer) January 28, 2017
Even veteran driver and crew chief Brian Keselowski lightheartedly accused him of the deed. For his part, Jones denied it and even displayed surprise that his Super was able to capture the pole.
@MattWeaverAW someone from up north knew how to get heat in the tires
— Brian Keselowski (@KeselowskiBrian) January 28, 2017
“Nah, I got so tight that I was kind of worried that I would get into the dirt, so I got back in the throttle to make the corner and I just lost it,” the 2015 Truck Series champion said. “I showed up here two years ago in practice and did the same thing.
“Either way, I didn’t think we had a car capable of sitting on the pole based on practice. We did a couple of mock runs and the best we could do was a 15.87 so to pick up a few tenths was impressive. I think we caught the weather right so I’m not sure we could do that again. It worked out good and I think we have a better race car than a qualifying car so this sets us up good for tomorrow.”
Speedfest does not employ an invert so Jones will start the race from the front row alongside NASCAR K&N East Series regular Harrison Burton. The 16-year-old made an off-season switch to Fury Race Cars and was fastest in practice throughout Friday.
He was disappointed to come just short of the pole, but is excited for race day — even though Speedfest has a reputation of turning into a wreck fest.
“Here’s the key,” Burton explained. “You just have to patience in this race. You don’t need to bump someone out of the way, even if you’re faster on Lap 125, because you’re not going to get any slack on Lap 165. You just have to be mindful of everyone and then race hard at the end.”
Scotty Ellis, Chase Purdy and Brandon Setzer completed the top-5 in time trials.
Defending race winner Bubba Pollard put up the eighth fastest time and wasn’t particularly pleased with his car.
“We just suck, that’s all there is to it,” Pollard said bluntly, admitting that he always struggles here despite the overall good run of results. “We always find a way to be there at the end, and that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow. Hopefully.”
Reigning Snowball Derby champion Christian Eckes qualified 11th.
Racing action begins at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday with a local Legend Car race, the Pro Late Model 100-lapper and the Super Late Model 200-lap main event. Speed 51’s 51TV pay-per-view service will broadcast the event in its entirety.
The complete starting lineup for the Speedfest 200 SLM race can be found below.
- Erik Jones 15.673
- Harrison Burton 15.682
- Scotty Ellis 15.709
- Chase Purdy 15.722
- Brandon Setzer 15.768
- Casey Roderick 15.770
- Chandler Smith 15.776
- Bubba Pollard 15.776
- Jeff Choquette 15.827
- Stephen Nasse 15.830
- Christian Eckes 15.875
- Derek Scott Jr. 15.901
- Chris Dilbeck 15.909
- Martin Latulippe 15.915
- Zane Smith 15.921
- Spencer Davis 15.939
- Kyle McCallum 16.016
- Spencer Gallagher 16.049
- Jordan Pruitt 16.052
- Connor Okrzesik 16.054
- Jerry Artuso 16.092
- Raphael Lessard 16.138
- Brandon Jones 16.240
- Austin Thaxton 16.247
- Justin Ashburn 16.287
- Steve Dorer N/A