By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
The finish of Sunday’s Yellawood 500 from Talladega Superspeedway, by most accounts, was astonishing, breathtaking and controversial. And Erik Jones was in the middle of it all.
Restarting ninth at the second attempt at an overtime finish, Jones catapulted to the front. The No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota hooked up with William Byron before completing a three-wide pass for second going into Turn 1 on the final lap. Seven spots, one lap.
Maintaining second place into Turn 3, Jones threw the block on third-place Chris Buescher, who attempted to pass on the outside. The late block hooked Jones into the wall, killing his momentum for the final stretch to the line.
Jones eventually pushed Matt DiBenedetto to his second-place finish before the No. 21 was penalized for forcing William Byron below the yellow line in Turn 4. Jones would inherit second place.
“Obviously, wish we could have won it there at the end,” Jones said. “We had to throw a big block and got in the wall, but still came back and finished second there. Good day. The car was strong, it just didn’t totally play out at the end. You can’t ask for a lot more. We were there and coming to the line with a shot to win.”
With the yellow-line rule becoming the point of focus on the race’s final lap, Jones doesn’t know what could eliminate the issue going forward.
“I don’t honestly know what to do to make it better,” he said. “I know it’s unfortunate when it comes down to the end of the race, it becomes a judgment call. I’m not totally sure what happened between the 11 and 21 that caused the penalty at the end, I haven’t seen it.”
It was the second straight Talladega race that saw Jones involved in the hot run to the line, crashing across the checkered flag in the June race.
“It is unfortunate when you have to make those calls, put people out of the race for something like that,” he said. “But I honestly don’t know what I would change if I was in that position to make it any better.”
Missing the playoffs, Jones has experienced a resurgence in his 2020 season, finishing eighth or better in four of the last five races. Three of them being top fives.
“This last month has been awesome as a driver, running strong, run up front,” he said. “I don’t know it changes too much what I’ve got going.”
With no confirmed ride for 2021, Jones knows he is showing what he can do on the racetrack.
“I’m still working for 2021. There’s still some things I’m trying to work out, get locked in for next year,” he said. “I don’t know that [the finish] really changes my hand at all with them. The teams I’m in discussion with I’ve been in discussion with a for a while anyway. I don’t know that this is going to change it.
“I’ve told teams here in the last few months, I know I can do it, I’ve won a couple of these races and feel like we could have won more along the way. Haven’t always had it click here. I’ve enjoyed my time at JGR, but wish we could have won more races along the way.”