By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – Coming into the Hisense 4K TV 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Erik Jones sat third in points and was looking at continuing his momentum from his win two weeks ago at Dover International Speedway. Jones was fastest in the first practice and qualified his No. 20 GameStop Toyota Camry on the pole for the NASCAR Xfinity Series race. This was the fourth pole for Jones this season.
Jones easily cleared teammate Daniel Suarez as Suarez spun his tires on the start. Jones quickly opened up a gap of nearly a second only a handful of laps into the race. The gap slowly closed until Denny Hamlin passed Jones just before the caution waved for an accident involving Cody Ware. Jones pitted under the caution from the second position, and left pit road still in second.
On the restart, Jones fell back to third behind Kyle Larson. Jones passed Larson on lap 25, making it look easy. Jones was also closing in quickly on Hamlin. In turn three however, Jones hit fluid and slid. Jones fought to regain control before hitting the wall hard with the right side. Under the lengthy caution, Jones pitted multiple times for repairs. Jones and his team were unable to remain on the lead lap as repairs continued to be made. The repairs did not help, as Jones’ wheel was cranked 90 degrees to the left after the initial repairs were made. By the time the second set of repairs were finished, Jones was two laps behind the leader and out of contention for the win. By the time the field went green, Jones was 35th, two laps down, and the final car still on track.
The race restarted on lap 41, but only stayed green for two laps. This allowed Jones to come back down pit road for more repairs. After the third caution, Jones was one of only two cars not on the lead lap, the other car being the No. 14 of Jeff Green who was one lap down.
A handful of laps after the restart on lap 52, the caution waved yet again, giving Green the lucky dog, leaving Jones as the only car on track not on the lead lap. Unfortunately for Jones, Spencer Gallagher had fallen a lap down before the fifth caution flew. As Gallagher moved back onto the lead lap, Joey Gase and Ryan Reed had fallen a lap behind the leaders, keeping Jones trapped two laps down, and in the 35th position. By lap 70, Jones and his team had just about completed repairs to his car.
Shortly after the restart, Jones moved up to the 34th position after Darrell Wallace Jr., who finished second to Jones at Dover, bounced off of the wall and pitted for repairs. At the same time, Hamlin began to lap the tail-end of the field, further trapping Jones in the back. As more cars had trouble and pitted for repairs or went behind the wall, Jones moved forward into the 26th position. When the sixth caution waved, Jones was 25th on track and only one lap behind the leaders.
Jones quickly moved up on the restart. By lap 124, Jones was in 19th, the first car one lap down. 20 laps later, race leader Joey Logano had finally reached the tail-end of the field, and lapped Dakoda Armstrong, once again trapping Jones a lap down. However, Jones was able to run down Armstrong and make the pass to once again be in position for the lucky dog. Jones’ lousy luck continued as not even two laps later, Garrett Smithley was lapped as the caution waved, trapping Jones a lap down.
When the race restarted, Jones was in 19th, once again in position for the lucky dog. The laps continued to tick down until Jones cut down a tire and slammed the outside wall with just two laps to go. Jones limped his car back to pit lane. Jones ended the day in 31st, out of the race.
When Jones was asked about his day, he stated, “Well, it just doesn’t go your way sometimes. You know you got a good car, and things don’t work out. I’ve had days like this before, and it won’t be the last. So we’ll go onto next week, Pocono, and hopefully we’ll have a good racecar and challenge for the win again.”
Image: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images