By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – So far, the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has not lived up to the expectations of many for Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contender Erik Jones. 11 races into the season, Jones has just one Top 10 finish, an eighth at Phoenix Raceway, and three DNFs at Daytona, Richmond, and Talladega.
The first practice for the 2017 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was a bright spot for Jones and his No. 77 5-Hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota Camry team as they topped the speed charts. His 192.713mph, 28.021 second lap, on his seventh of nine laps in practice, was enough to best seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.
Jones has six career 1.5-mile starts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with a best finish of 12th at Texas Motor Speedway in 2015. In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, he has four starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a best finish of second in the 2015 fall race. Jones has also made one start at Charlotte in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series where he started and finished second.
Incidents in the first practice included Larson, Kyle Busch, and Clint Bowyer all contacting the wall during the session. While Bowyer’s and Busch’s damage was minimal. Larson’s damage was significant, and even though he said that his Chip Ganassi Racing may go to a backup car, they have yet to do so.
Joey Logano and ROTY contender Gray Gaulding made the most laps in the first practice with 22 laps each. JJ Yeley completed the fewest laps, two, in the No. 7 Accell Construction Inc. Chevrolet SS.
Now Jones and his Furniture Row Racing team will look to keep their speed as they enter the longest race on NASCAR’s schedule.