By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones was among those who passed the most cars in the Toyota Save Mart 350.
The third-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver moved far up the running order in the final caution-free stage. Jones’ No. 20 Craftsman Toyota Camry made quick work of Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer as they faded on worn tires. He had been mid-pack before his late-race surge forward.
Jones picked up a couple more positions at Sonoma Raceway after Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano pitted in closing laps. He then set his sights on Ryan Newman in seventh. However, Jones ran out of laps and took the checkered in eighth.
“We passed a lot of cars,” Jones explained. “I am just happy we were able to come out of here with a solid day. Wish we could have gotten some more stage points, but it was nice to get a good finish. The Craftsman Camry was good; we just needed track position.
“I think we were probably a few spots better than that, but it’s still good. It’s nice to get back on track. Hopefully this is good momentum for next week in Chicago.”
Track position was key at the 2.52-mile road course. With the reintroduction of the carousel, starting in the back created a struggle for Jones. He qualified 32nd due to a flat tire in qualifying. Compounding his uphill climb, Jones was sent to the rear at the start for unapproved adjustments.
Jones’ eighth-place finish is his seventh top-10 finish this season and the 39th of his career. The Byron, MI native rounded out Toyota Racing Development’s full-time entries, and was one of five to finish in the top-eight.
Due to his starting position, Jones was unable to earn stage points at Sonoma. However, Johnson, a direct competitor to Jones in the race for the playoff cutoff earned one stage point and closed the gap to Newman who holds the coveted position.
Despite the top-10 finish, Jones remained 18th in the championship points standings. With 10 races left in the regular season, he is five points behind the cutoff. Jones is 257-points behind points leader Logano.