By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – Erik Jones was able to survive the chaos that was the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard on Sunday.
After a 28th place qualifying effort, Jones, Jerry Baxter, and the No. 43 team had a don’t give up attitude that ultimately resulted in his third top-10 of 2021 and best finish since the Charlotte ROVAL from 2020. The seventh-place finish was also Richard Petty Motorsports’ best finish since Daytona last season.
“It was an up and down,” Jones told Kickin’ the Tires. “To be honest, the car wasn’t totally where we needed to be. I saw the chaos coming at the beginning and from that point, we just had to hold on and not get wrecked. We ended up coming home with a decent day though. I didn’t see us coming home with a top-10, to be honest, but we’ll take it. The Petty Garage Chevrolet was good there at the end but we definitely need to do some work before we come back here, obviously with the new car. That’ll help us with the ROVAL.”
During the race, the curbing from turns five and six began to strike back. Jones was one of the lucky drivers who didn’t draw any substantial damage. After the race, Jones spoke with Kickin’ the Tires about what he was feeling behind the wheel and how he feels NASCAR and IMS could fix the issue that’ll definitely need to be fixed by the time this race rolls back around next season.
“It was just getting beat up,” Jones said about the curbing in turns five and six. “From Xfinity, yesterday, qualifying this morning, and racing on it all afternoon, guys were using it up. It looked like it was ripping the whole splitter and pan off and getting stuck under it (the curbing). I don’t know, I think we struggled with a similar issue the first year at the ROVAL with some of the temporary turtles. I think we’ll need to change the design of that kink to slow it down a bit and get it to where guys aren’t trying to totally short-cut it but we definitely can’t come back and have just a ramp, that is no way to have a curb. Hopefully, we can figure out something before next year.”
Sunday’s top-10 finish for Jones was his first since the Bristol dirt race earlier this year and marked the 65th top-10 finish in his six-year NASCAR Cup Series career. With his status for next season up in the air, a top-10 finish is another solid point for his resume but Jones isn’t looking at this top-10 in that form, he’s looking at the final two races of the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season as Jones and Richard Petty Motorsports looks to make one last push for a victory and a ticket to the playoffs.
“It’s good,” said Jones about putting another top-10 on his resume. “It’s been a while since we had a top-10, so it’s nice to get another one here for these guys. Coming to Michigan this week, a track that has been good for them in the past and good for me too. There’s a good stretch of races coming up with Michigan and Daytona, obviously a place where we can go out and win. Darlington and Bristol, are great places for me. Hopefully, we can just get on a string here and have some good finishes, top-10’s, and take advantage of those chances we have to run upfront for the win.”
In his first season with Richard Petty Motorsports, Jones has tallied three top-10 finishes. Joining a new organization is a challenge in itself but entering the last season with this generation car adds a challenge to the organization. As they approach the next four races, both RPM and Jones have had success at the upcoming races in recent years. Jones earned his first and second career victories at two of the next four race tracks (Daytona and Darlington) and has solid runs in his career at both Michigan and Bristol. Now that the two enter races where they’re on the same page with solid runs in the past, the No. 43 team could begin a stride towards ending the season on a high note.
“It feels good,” said Jones about getting to tracks that the team and driver are on the same page. “We come to a place like this and obviously it’s a new course with no history. You don’t know what to do and you kind of learn as you go but next week at Michigan they have a kind of history thereof whats worked well for them and I also know what I need to get around there well as well too. Especially in places like Darlington and Bristol, I am looking forward to getting there. They’ve been historically good for me. I’m excited with good tracks coming up and hopefully, we can keep this stretch rolling.”
Photo: Christian Koelle