By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
After running up front throughout the Quaker State 400, Erik Jones earned a motivating top-five finish.
Taking the Lead
The PettyGMS Motorsports driver took the lead just after the start of the final Stage of the 400-mile race. The second of two big accidents brought out a caution, keeping the No. 43 FOCUSfactor Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE in the lead for 10 laps. However, three laps after the ensuring restart, fellow Chevy Racing driver Ross Chastain drafted by Jones for the lead.
“I thought our day was good,” admitted Jones. “Our No. 43 FOCUSfactor Chevy was quick. We needed a tick more speed. I think we had to do some things for handling that slowed us down a little bit. We were up there, but I couldn’t really break out and do much. When I got in the lead there, I wasn’t really quick enough to hold it myself. We were close. It feels good to just have a good race. We’ve had a rough month, so it’s nice to get a top-five and get some points.”
Running Up Front
Despite losing the lead, Jones remained inside the top-10 for the remainder of the race at the ‘mini-superspeedway’ at Atlanta. He spent much of the final 80 laps drafting with eventual race winner Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez, Justin Haley, and Chastain. Jones avoided two late incidents inside the top-10 that effectively ended the day for Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin, and Brad Keselowski.
In the final three-lap run to the finish, Jones pushed Elliott forward. Elliott and LaJoie fought for the lead with a late block sending the No. 7 Chevrolet into the wall. Jones narrowly avoided LaJoie as he spun back down the track, causing a race-ending caution. The caution froze the field, leaving Jones fourth when the checkered flag waved.
“(Getting a great finish is) motivating,” explained Jones. “I think our superspeedway and 1.5-mile stuff has been so good all year. We were close here in the spring in the end and we were close again today. We were close at Talladega and close in Daytona. So, all the superspeedway races, we’ve been really fast. We’re there, we just need to have one play out for us.
“I would have loved to have run that last lap out. I think Ross (Chastain) and Chase (Elliott) were going to run each other pretty hard in (turns) three and four, and I would have loved to have a chance to make something happen. I feel like we’ve been close at a lot of superspeedways, just haven’t closed one out. I would love to get the No. 43 in victory lane, and I hope we can do it before the playoffs.”
Jones started the Quaker State 400 in 25th after qualifying was rained out and the field was set by NASCAR’s metric formula. On the grid, his PettyGMS crew thrashed to fix a problem with his rearview camera. The camera had mirrored left and right, showing cars on opposite sides. As the Cup Series field began their parade laps, the fix failed, and the camera started flipping left and right once again. It was an issue Jones dealt with for much of the race.
Although Jones ran inside the top-10 throughout the final Stage of the race, he was not inside the top-10 at the end of the first two Stages. The 26-year-old finished the first Stage outside the top-20 and was just inside the top-15 to finish the second Stage.
The fourth-place finish is Jones’ second top-five finish this season, his first since Auto Club Speedway. It’s the 35th top-five finish in the Byron, MI native’s Cup career. Jones also matched his top-10 total from his first season with what is now PettyGMS, six.
The top-five finish moved Jones up from 18th to 17th in the championship points standings. He is 237-points behind leader Elliott and 75-points behind the playoff cutline, currently held by Bell.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Christian Koelle / Kickin’ the Tires.