By David Morgan, Associate Editor
CONCORD, N.C. – Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.
Weeks after winning the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington to punch his ticket into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and solidifying his place at Joe Gibbs Racing for 2020, Erik Jones has been on a downward spiral ever since and things didn’t get much better in the first elimination race of the postseason.
Since his Darlington win, Jones hadn’t scored a finish better than 36th in the races since, putting him in a must-win situation for Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. A place no driver wants to be on the treacherous 2.28-mile, 18-turn road course.
Starting the day in 15th, Jones was biding his time, just trying to stay out of trouble when disaster struck at the end of Stage 1. A spin by Ryan Preece on lap 21 set up a restart on lap 24, and just like in the 2018 edition of the ROVAL race, Turn 1 earned it’s “Heartburn Turn” nickname.
As the field funneled into the sharp left-hander at the end of the frontstretch, Kurt Busch made contact with Chris Buescher, collecting Jones, Alex Bowman, Denny Hamlin, and Jimmie Johnson by the time the smoke cleared.
While Jones was able to drive away from the crash scene under his own power, he would soon be relegated to the garage area with a hole in the radiator as a result of the impact, bringing his day and his run in the Playoffs to an early end.
Jones would be credited with a 40th place finish, marking the second straight year that he and the No. 20 team wouldn’t make it out of the first round of the postseason.
“It’s frustrating,” Jones said. “It’s frustrating not just to even have a chance throughout the whole race, you know? We didn’t make it to the first stage and it wasn’t our fault. That’s probably the most frustrating part is getting taken out and nothing you can do about it. We’ll have to keep going all year, win some more races and come back and start over again in next year’s Playoffs.
“We just had three really bad weeks and it’s some of our own doing and some not our own doing, but it’s racing. We’ve got really fast cars. I know we can probably go out and win some more races this year, which is I guess a consolation prize. I’d love to be moving forward here and challenging for the championship. I thought we could’ve went pretty deep this year, but it’s just the nature of the Playoffs.”