Rookie Erik Jones tallies first Cup Series top five in Pocono

Matthew T. Thacker/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Erik Jones’ strong start to the summer stretch reached its highest peak yet at Pocono Raceway – his first-career top five.

The Furniture Row Racing (FRR) rookie enjoyed his strongest performance to date in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series en-route to a third-place result in Sunday’s Axalta Presents the Pocono 400, earning his first top five in 17 starts.

Reflecting on his day, Jones cherished a result that he felt matched his team’s performance.

“Just happy, happy that we finally get a finish that we deserve,” Jones said. “We ran top-five most of the day and had good strategy and it worked out. The last restart played out right into our hands and got it during the third (stage) and knew we had to hold those guys off and we’d be just fine.”

After watching race winner Ryan Blaney earn his first win, Jones admitted to hoping the race would fall his way in the closing laps, while Kevin Harvick was applying pressure to the Wood Brothers Racing star.

“I was hoping they were going to get side-by-side like the 21 (Ryan Blaney) and the 18 (Kyle Busch) did and we were able to close that up on them and have a shot there,” Jones said. “I could never quite get up there. I was busy holding off the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and 41 (Kurt Busch).

“Congrats to Blaney for one, that’s really cool, really cool for the young guys. We had a good GameStop Camry all day. We didn’t have the winning car, we didn’t have the speed the 18 had all day or the 21. We worked at it hard all day, it’s definitely a physical race. It’s a lot of fun and really cool to get a top-five.”

The Byron, Michigan native’s run didn’t end in a victory, but it served as a step in the right direction in the standings.

Despite a crash in the season-opening Daytona 500, Jones was able to elevate himself into the playoff grid during the early months of the season, rising as high as 12th in the standings leaving Bristol Motor Speedway in April.  However, the rookie dropped out of the postseason field over the following month, dropping to 19th in points with three-straight finishes (38th, 33rd and 22nd) outside of the top 20.

Jones and FRR regained their footing with finishes of seventh and 15th at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway, but it was Sunday that truly elevated the group back into the playoff conversation.

While Ryan Blaney’s win removed another position from the playoff field, Jones’ strong showing elevated him to 16th in the standings, just 40 points back from 11th-place Joey Logano for the current cutoff position.

Jones acknowledged his relief with the team’s recent performance upon delivering the No. 77 Toyota to another strong result.

“It’s just gratifying,” Jones said. “You stick with it and stick to your guns and know what you have and keep doing the same thing week in and week out and sometimes it’s tough to do that. You hope it’s going to come back around and I got the finish I felt like we deserved.”

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