By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
It had been a while since Erik Jones had been competitive in the NASCAR Cup Series. “A hot minute,” said Jones in the prerace grid walk with Michael Waltrip on FOX. That was before Jones went out and had his career-best run with the No. 43.
In fact, it had been 847 days since Jones had started on the front row. Texas in November of 2019 was the last time that he started second. It had been 504 days since he’d finished inside the top-five, that being in the 2020 Charlotte ROVAL race. Sunday’s race was high for not only Jones but Petty GMS Motorsports as a whole.
“It’s been a lot of work honestly,” Jones told Kickin’ the Tires. “We had a merger with GMS during the off-season and it’s just been a huge effort by everybody. We brought a new crew chief on board with Dave Elenz and a few new crew members come on board it’s just been crazy getting this new car ready to go and it’s just worked very well. We have just done a good job getting it dialed in and good right off the truck. It was a bit of a good day of attrition and not making mistakes but honestly, the Focus Factor Chevrolet was confident that we weren’t going to make one with it driving very well. If a few things had gone different we probably would’ve had a shot to win, we had a shot to win but we weren’t close enough on that last restart to get up there and challenge but proud of the effort and hope we can keep this going all year.”
After starting second, Jones took the lead from pole-sitter Austin Cindric on the very first lap leading lap number one of the day. Jones would lead the initial 10 laps before being passed by Tyler Reddick on lap 11. Reddick and Jones would battle throughout the day including finishing 1-2 in both stages of the afternoon. Reddick would take the lead back from Jones on lap 134 before a tire went down on the No. 8 would hand the lead back to the No. 43. Jones spoke about not making mistakes in an afternoon that was filled with drivers making mistakes.
“The mistakes come from pushing, right?” said Jones. “Honestly our car was good enough that I didn’t have to stress it to that point. I mean sure we had plenty of moments with the car being really edgy and hard to drive, but, our car was good enough that I could be very aggressive and make some moves that others couldn’t make. You’ve gotta be focused on what makes those mistakes and you try to avoid them. You still try to go for the win though, you know you’re up there and you’ve got a shot so you wanna push the fine line but that’s what makes racing fun.”
Jones would lead his final laps of the afternoon from lap 152 to 155 before giving the lead up to Joey Logano on the restart at lap 156. He’d remain within the top-five during the final 50 laps but wouldn’t have enough to catch the leaders again. On the final few laps, Jones made a pass on Daniel Suarez coming to the white flag to take third but was too far back to contend for the victory.
“I want to get that No. 43 car back in victory lane,” said Jones. “Last year was a building year for us to get the cars better and this year it is starting to capitalize and show a bit and hopefully we can keep it going. If we keep going out and running like that, the opportunity will be there to win every week.”
Jones’ 18 laps led Sunday was the most for Petty GMS Motorsports since Sam Hornish Jr. led 22 laps in the 2015 Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was the most laps led for the No. 43 car since the 2012 Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway when Aric Almirola led 69 laps.
Jones currently sits sixth in the NASCAR Cup Series points standings, 17-points behind points leader Austin Cindric. The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway where Jones finished 10th and 26th in 2021. At the time of the last Las Vegas race, 10th was Jones’ best finish with Petty GMS Motorsports.