By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Erik Jones’ playoff pressure ended last Saturday, scoring his maiden Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at Daytona, locking himself into a playoff berth in just his sophomore season. Jones came into Kentucky Speedway simply looking for even more stellar runs, which he successfully accomplished in the Quaker State 400, finishing seventh.
It’s Jones’ fourth straight top-10 effort this season, and certainly a hard fought one after his white No. 20 Freightliner Toyota Camry could’ve failed completing the entire 267-lap contest.
Starting alongside pole sitter Martin Truex, Jr., Jones struggled finding proper grip in the opening stages. His tight car came home in 11th, one spot shy of scoring a stage point.
In the second stage, that’s where his night appeared to be borderline, reporting a bad vibration, which led to crew chief Chris Gayle telling Jones to ride it out as long as possible. Jones felt the vibration took place as a result of his driveshaft, and was on the verge of blowing up before the end of Stage 2.
Despite the biggest fear of failing to finish his third Cup race this season, the Joe Gibbs Racing entry held it together and survived the stage with a ninth-place effort.
However, the engine problem wouldn’t go away just yet as the early portion of the final stage, Jones reported something was a miss on his car. Going forward, nothing was reported from the team and it was simply gaining track position.
After the final caution came out for J.J. Yeley putting fluid in Turn 4, Jones restarted eighth on Lap 212. Four laps later, the Daytona winner cracked the top-five, but it was short lived as Kevin Harvick passed him, and faced a tight car for the remainder of the race.
As Truex scored his fourth win of the season, and his first on a 1.5-mile track, Jones’ seventh-place performance was his ninth top-10 this season.
Jones will look to carry his momentous summer and fight for a fifth straight top-10 run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon for the running of the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 July 22.
In two previous starts, he was involved in a multi-car crash in Turn 2, forcing him to finish last of the 39-car field after completing 40 laps. His second trip fared much better, bringing his former team (Furniture Row Racing) a sixth-place run.