Erik Jones and the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY team took all that the tough Martinsville Speedway short track could throw at them to earn a 12th-place finish in the STP 500 and valuable lessons for when they return later this season.
The day was a mixed bag for the Furniture Row Racing team that, in the end, showcased the determination the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate and his 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry team have. After a 17th-place finish in the first stage, crew chief Chris Gayle chose to leave the No. 77 Toyota Camry on the track since they’d made a stop for fuel and tires just 24 laps before.
The decision moved Jones up to fifth for the start of the second stage and he took advantage of a 128-lap green-flag run to finish eighth, earning three valuable championship points in doing so.
The third and final segment saw Jones drop to 18th and then have to make a green-flag stop on lap 383 for a tire rub after contact with the No. 13 of Ty Dillon. Then, on Lap 418, the 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry was collected in a multi-car accident in Turn 3, causing extensive damage to the hood and right-front side of the car. However, the repaired damage actually seemed to help the handling of the car, allowing Jones to restart 20th on lap 428 and then pick up eight positions in the final 73 laps.
“There were a lot of ups and downs for the 5-hour ENERGY team today,” said Jones. “I thought at one point we had a pretty good car. We were running up in the top five but as the day went on we kind of lost the handle on it, got tight in the center and just never could really get it back. Right up there at the end we went two laps down. We had to pit under green. We had a tire rub and after that the 5-hour ENERGY Camry got caught up in an accident, but honestly after that was the best we were all day. Not exactly sure where we came home, but that’s a good recovery for us. Finishing 12th isn’t the day we wanted but we’ll definitely take it for the first time here at Martinsville.”
Jones gained two spots, to 13th, in the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series point standings.
“I knew today at Martinsville Speedway would be tough,” said Gayle. “It’s my first time back as a rookie NASCAR Cup Series crew chief and Erik’s first race here in a Cup car. I was expecting it to be tough back and forth and we definitely fought the handling on the 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry all day. But we worked hard and, after getting in the crash late in the race, Erik and the team made a great rebound to come back. We then had a really strong run to close the race out to finish 12th. We obviously want to finish better than that but, for the first time here, it turned out okay and we all learned a lot.”
The race winner was Brad Keselowski. Rounding out the top-10 in order were: Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The race had 18 lead changes among seven drivers and 14 cautions for 95 laps.
The next NASCAR Cup Series race is Sunday, April 9 at the repaved 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.