Erik Jones can’t surpass mentor Kyle Busch, finishes second at Bristol

Matthew T. Thacker/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

BRISTOL, Tenn. — One day after earning his first Coors Light Pole award in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Erik Jones appeared to be the man to beat in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Only one thing stood in his way.

The man who first discovered him.

Jones led a race-high 260 of the 500 laps in Saturday’s race, but in the end the Byron, Michigan native found himself in a battle with two of the most important figures in his life this season – his mentor (Kyle Busch), and the driver he’ll soon replace at Joe Gibbs Racing (Matt Kenseth).

While Jones was able to get the best of Kenseth, over the final circuits he found himself trailing Busch.

The setup was a fitting storyline for Jones’ first Cup Series win. It was, after all, Busch who discovered Jones when the then-16-year-old star bested Busch and Super Late Model racing’s biggest stars in the prestigious Snowball Derby. Who better to pass and earn a playoff-clinching victory?

But on Saturday it wasn’t meant to be. Try as he might, Jones couldn’t reel in Busch in the closing laps. He crossed the line 1.422 seconds behind Busch as the Nevadan completed his second complete weekend sweep.

Jones didn’t bother hiding his frustration afterward.

“It’s a bummer, I mean you can’t lie,” Jones said. “I thought we had a really good day and we fought hard all day. We had our ups and downs and led a lot of laps and didn’t have quite enough at the end. Kyle (Busch) is really good here. But we had a good 5-Hour Energy Camry. Just needed a little more at the end. It’s just unfortunate we didn’t have it. I did what I could, but it just wasn’t quite enough.”

The run was the second-consecutive strong run for Jones, who contended with Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. for the victory just last weekend at Michigan International Speedway. Jones looked to that as a positive, even as he fell just short of victory once again.

“It’s a great weekend for us,” Jones said. “You can’t take that away. The 5-Hour Energy Camry was fantastic, but you still wish you could’ve had that little bit more to grab the win.

“That one would’ve meant a lot to us, but we’ll just have to keep after it. That’s two good weeks for us and we’re going to keep fighting and keep going after these wins.”

Jones will get two more attempts at a race win to clinch himself into the playoffs. He currently sits in a tie for 15th in the standings, trailing Kenseth on the playoff bubble by 129 points. It’ll take a victory for Jones to clinch a spot in the postseason.

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