By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
SPARTA, Ky. – Heading into Kentucky Speedway and the first race in the inaugural NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase, Erik Jones and the powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing organization were a title favorite. Jones recorded four wins and 13 top-five finishes in the 26-race regular season and entered the weekend with a six-point advantage in the championship standings.
Jones had a dominant car on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, leading a race-high 100 laps before a late-race wreck ended his night in the garage instead of in victory lane.
Jones was battling with Ty Dillon, who had led 47 laps in his No. 3 Chevrolet, when his No. 20 Toyota got loose in Turn 3 and went hard into the outside wall to bring out the caution with just 12 laps remaining in the 200-lap event.
“I was pretty tight and just put us in a bad aero situation. It’s pretty flat getting into three and I did all I could to get slowed down to stay off of him (Dillon) but just couldn’t,” said a dejected Jones after being treated and released from the infield care center. “It’s unfortunate because we had a fast car that could have won the race. It’s unfortunate, but it’s racing.”
There was an elevated level of intensity and aggressiveness at the 1.5-mile track in Sparta that resulted in a race-record 12 caution flags for 64 laps.
“It’s tough to pass, sure, but I wasn’t having any trouble getting singled out and working around cars. I think at times people were a little over aggressive. There were points where we were four-wide for no reason on the frontstretch. It’s kind of embarrassing to have that many wrecks in the series and we were one of them. It’s just unfortunate and nobody wants to be in a situation like that.”
With drivers being so aggressive, it changed the way Jones drove, especially on the restarts.
“It makes me try to stay out of trouble. I didn’t want to have something like that happen. I was definitely playing more defense on restarts than I ever have been in my career just trying to guard and make sure I was in one piece but there’s only so much you can do before one of these times you run out of luck.”
Jones was credited with a 28th-place result and is ninth in the championship standings, three points behind the final spot to advance to the Round of 8. The series heads to Dover and Charlotte before eliminating the bottom four in the 12-driver field.
“We have to run really well at Dover and Charlotte if not get a win,” Jones said of the next two races. “I think we can win either of them. We’ve beat ourselves a lot this year and we did it again tonight. That’s unfortunate and it’s my fault.”