Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

‘It Is What It Is,’ Erik Jones Says of Heartbreaking Talladega Finish

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Erik Jones had the checkered flag in sight Sunday at Talladega only to see it snatched from his grasp in the waning moments of the GEICO 500.

Starting the day in 16th place, Jones worked his way to the front of the field and seemed to be in the catbird seat to score his first win since 2019 and the first win for Petty GMS Motorsports since Aric Almirola won at Daytona in 2014.

Jones was the most consistent driver throughout the race, finding himself in the lead on 10 different occasions throughout the race’s 188-lap duration. Trading the lead with defending series champion Kyle Larson over the course of the final 11 laps, Jones secured the lead all to himself with three laps remaining on the scoreboard.

As the leaders clicked off the final laps running single file, Jones had Kyle Larson and Ross Chastain in line behind him and saw nothing but clear race track and the checkered flag thorough his windshield.

Then in true Talladega fashion, chaos broke loose heading through the tri-oval for the final time.

With a push from Chastain, Larson moved high on Jones to try and sweep around him to take the lead and the win, as Jones took a hard right to try and block the move. The move high opened the door low for Chastain to speed past him and steal the win, as Larson powered around him to the outside.

Stuck in the middle, Jones could do nothing but watch as he faded back to sixth at the finish, shattering his dreams of making a return to Victory Lane.

“I mean, just the last lap, right? It’s typical here,” Jones said. “Been close here so many times, in this race and the fall race. U.S. Air Force Chevy had good speed, felt good to be up front.

“Coming there that last lap, we were single file. I felt pretty good about it. They kind of doubled up behind us. That top lane was getting some momentum. Looking back, I wish I would have stayed at the bottom and let the 1 push me. I didn’t realize they were coming with that much speed.

“But try to defend on the 5, you’re too far ahead already right here. Obviously, a defense on the 5 kind of gives the door to the 1.

“It is what it is. You’re trying to just win the race. You can only see how much is going on from the seat. You’re trying to make the best decision you can the last 1500 feet.

“Happy to run up front, lead laps. Would really love to get the 43 in Victory Lane. I thought today might be the day. All day long we were fast and had speed. Especially being up front there at the end, the last 10, I knew we had a shot, but just couldn’t quite close it out.”

With Sunday’s result, Jones now has three top-10 finishes on the season as he and the No. 43 team will look to regroup before heading to next weekend’s race at Dover Motor Speedway.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.