In his first Coca-Cola 600, Erik Jones scored a career-high seventh place; however, what may have been more impressive was how he got the finish.
The Michigan-native started fifth, but lost track position when he sustained a hole in the nose of his No. 77 during the race’s first caution on Lap 20. Despite this, he made his way quickly back into the top-five, scoring points in stage two and three en route to his top-10 finish.
“Yeah, we – you know it was just a long day overall, altogether with the rain delay, getting the damage early. So just a lot of things going on, but a good learning experience nonetheless,” Jones said. “We had a good 5-Hour Energy Camry. I think getting that damage early kind of put us behind the eight-ball. I don’t know if we ever had the same race car we had at the start. I think we had a car that would contend up there with probably Martin (Truex Jr.) and Kyle (Busch) if we did a little work on it and after the damage, never could get it quite as fast again. A good day though.”
After two DNFs at Richmond and Talladega, in addition to a 22nd-place finish at Kansas, Sunday served as a much-needed rebound for him and his team.
“It was a good night and a solid night. This was what we needed after some tough races, and tonight we just needed a good, solid finish, so it was good to get a top-10,” Jones said. “I think our car was a little bit better than that. We just got that hole in the nose early and never got the balance the same. The 5-hour Energy Camry was good, and it was just nice to have a good night.”
Charlotte could end up proving to be important in the growth of not only Jones but his No. 77 team as well.
As a whole, it was something neither the team or the driver had experienced all season. There are races where they have run in the top-10, and races that have not gone their way but, never a mixture of both. With their last first top-10 since was in Phoenix back in March, it could be the spark they need.
Take a look at Kyle Larson. Before his win at Michigan, Chip Ganassi Racing was not a championship contender. After? They continued to get stronger with five top-5’s to close out 2016, and won another race this year along with four other top-5’s, and are now considered a championship contender.
Jones now sits 18th in the points standings and will need to continuously improve if he wants to make the playoffs in September. With that said, it’ll be interesting to see if he can carry the momentum to Dover next weekend, a track where he owns a XFINITY Series win.
Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist
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