Erik Jones ran in the top five for the majority of his first NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway and has every reason to believe Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race is his best shot for taking the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota to victory and making the playoffs.
Though the final results of the April race show a 17th-place finish, the Furniture Row Racing driver finished Stage 1 in third place and Stage 2 in sixth. He ran as high as third in the final stage and was eighth on Lap 420 of 500 when contact with a lapped car sent the No. 77 Toyota into the Turn 3 wall. Jones was able to continue but his chances for victory were dashed.
“I think we've all got Bristol circled as a team,” said Jones. “We ran really well there in the spring. We didn't get the finish we wanted, but we had a really fast race car. We've kind of got that one circled.
“We’ve been able to string together top-10 finishes over the last three races and three completely different types of tracks (Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan). That gives our 5-hour ENERGY team a lot of confidence heading into Bristol. Everything happens so fast there and we know for sure that things can happen out of our control but it’s always great racing there.”
Jones is currently 16th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings after 23 races. He’s just 12 points behind Ryan Newman for 15th but knows it’s going to take a win in one of the last three regular season races to make the playoffs. Crew chief Chris Gayle returns to the pit box after a two-week absence.
“It will be great having Chris back at the track,” Jones continued. “He’s obviously the leader of the team so we’re glad to be back at full strength. But I definitely want to thank James Small for everything he did in Chris’s absence the past couple of weeks.
“Obviously it's a huge goal to make the playoffs, and I know we're capable of it,” Jones continued. “The 5-hour ENERGY Toyota team just has to go out and make it happen, and it goes back to execution. I mean, we've had fast race cars at a number of races, we just haven't put the whole day together, whether it be we didn't qualify well or we qualified well and had a bad stop late or whatever else. It's just going to take putting an entire weekend together.”
The 21-year old is second in the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. His 217 points are seven behind Daniel Suarez (224) and 43 ahead of third-place Ty Dillon (174).