April 25, 2016 – Salem, IN – If the Cunningham Motorsports’ teams could have completed their Salem Speedway experience when they left the track Saturday evening, they would have been pleased with their results. But the purses weren’t paid until the “fat lady” sings….or in this case until the checkered flag drops, which was after 200 laps of racing Sunday.
Both of the Cunningham teams, Chase Briscoe in the No. 77 and Blake Jones in the No. 22 were fast off of the trucks, with Briscoe claiming the top speed in both practice sessions. Jones followed closely behind his teammate—second in the first practice and fifth in the final session.
Briscoe grabbed his second pole award in a row, after knocking good buddy, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver, Christopher Bell off the pole. Briscoe had earned his first ARCA Series pole award in the most recent race at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville.
Jones was returning to the Cunningham organization, the team that helped him capture his first ARCA Series checkered flag last season at Talladega Superspeedway. After qualifying was completed, Jones would start 11th. Jones explained his starting spot by saying, “We should be strong tomorrow during the race. Our car is set up for long runs.” The cars are impounded after qualifying and teams are allowed to make only a few changes prior to the start of the race.
Both cars showed some strong moments with Briscoe leading the first 44 laps before pitting for right side General Tires and fuel under the first caution on lap 72. Briscoe remained in the top-three cars for most of the day, even tightening up the battle of the top three cars with 25 laps remaining. Shortly after this point, Briscoe radioed crew chief, Chad Bryant, “the vibration is continuing to get worse.” He had first mentioned it shortly after pitting for four tires and fuel on lap 130. With five laps to go, as Briscoe began dropping positions, the No. 77 lost all drive for the 21 year old from nearby Mitchell, Indiana. His Ford came to a complete stop on the backstretch, four laps shy of the checkered flag…relegating him to 16th. A loose right rear wheel, which caused an axle failure, was found upon inspection.
After getting pushed back to his pit area, Briscoe lamented, “To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement. I wanted nothing more than to win my first ARCA race in front of this hometown crowd and we definitely had the car to do it. Unfortunately, with fifty to go, a mechanical issue started to hinder our winning chances. And then it finally completely ended them. I am just so blessed to drive this amazing equipment.”
Jones’ day was not without struggles either. After starting 11th, the Sevierville, TN, native was playing a bit of the conservation game….pitting under the first caution period with the leaders. Paul Andrews called his driver in from the 8th spot for right side tires and fuel…sending him back on track in 5th. Just after halfway, Jones was sent into the turn 3 wall when a competitor got a little overaggressive, causing Jones to back off while assessing the damage to the No. 22. On lap 125, he got the opportunity for his crew to take a look at the right side of his car when he pitted, under yellow, for four tires and fuel. After restarting 10th, Jones continued to fight for positions, grabbing 5th on the white flag lap.
Even though the finish was not as Jones had hoped, he said, “I am really proud of Cunningham Motorsports. To be able to rebound after what happened in the mid stages of the race shows how strong this organization is. I appreciate Briggs (Cunningham) and Kerry (Scherer) giving me the opportunity. I hope to be back behind the wheel of the No. 22 later in the year.”
With a quick turnaround the teams race Friday, April 29 at Talladega Superspeedway. Briscoe will pilot the No. 77, with a new teammate, Brady Boswell in the No. 22. The one day General Tire 200 at Talladega culminates with 76 laps on the historic 2.66-mile at 5:00 pm CDT, with live coverage on FS1.
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