Last year, Erik Jones became one of the underdog favorites on a weekly basis. Sunday night (May 21), he may have taken a step to get back to that.
Jones finished eighth in the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway on Sunday.
“It was a good night, drove forward a long ways, obviously starting [21st], so eighth place ain’t too bad with two yellows,” Jones told Frontstretch.
That might not sound too impressive for a non-points-paying event where fans only remember the winner, but it was a return to the form seen from Jones last year.
Not only did he win his second Southern 500 in 2022, but Jones’s 18th in points was the best finish the No. 43 car had had since Aric Almirola was 17th in 2015.
A major change was made in the offseason, though, with Jimmie Johnson joining the ownership and Richard Petty no longer being a part of it. The team went from being called Petty GMS Motorsports to Legacy Motor Club.
Instead of building off the 2022 momentum, the No. 43 team’s swagger was gone. Jones only has two top 10s so far this year, and both of those were in superspeedway-style racing. Meanwhile, he has seven finishes outside the top 20 and sits 25th in points.
“We’re working hard to try to find speed,” Jones said. “We’ve gotten our cars at times driving good but have lacked some speed when we do have them driving well. We’re just trying to put those two things together.
“Wilkesboro’s a little bit of an oddity in a way with how slick it is. Speed doesn’t really matter, you just have to get it driving really good.”
Jones didn’t even come out firing for the All-Star Race. He was 34th in the lone practice session. He finished dead last in his heat race. It looked like the No. 43 car was dead in the water.
“[In the heat] we were on wet-weather tires and were mired all the way in dead last,” Jones said. “I think there was some hit-and-miss stuff going on there.
“We had to do some stuff in practice to make the car drivable and then kind of take some of that back out for the race, which got it better and got the STP Chevy close.”
When the green flag dropped for the main event on Sunday, Jones instantly started making moves. He quickly found his way into the top 10 and stayed there for the remainder of the night. Jones, like any racecar driver would, wanted more though.
“Just lacking a bit of drive there to get up there and really — the [No.] 5 was lights out but — be up there in that top five and compete,” Jones said.
The strong run comes at a key time for the team. Not only is it the halfway point in the regular season — a point where they could potentially right the ship and make a late push for the playoffs.
It also comes on the heels of Legacy’s announcement to move to Toyota in 2024. Many assumed that given how early in this current season the news came, that it created a lame-duck situation for the team where Chevrolet wouldn’t give them as good of support for the rest of the year.
Even if that is the situation, it did not hold Jones and crew back at North Wilkesboro.
“We needed a building block day and that’s kind of what today was,” Jones said.
About the author
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.
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