Erik Jones Making His Mark at Bristol and in NASCAR
By Kent Whitaker:
It was a rain filled weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway when both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series visited the track. The wet weather did not seem to bother upcoming driver Erik Jones as he raced his way to the front to capture the Checkered flag on Saturday.
The win should not be a surprise to race fans as it was the second checkered in the driver’s Xfinity ride of the season. He had four wins in the series last season. Jones has also won in the Camping World Series as well.
To date, on the cup side, Jones has yet to punch a winning ticket but this is his first full time year running on Sunday. In fact, he only has eleven starts in the Cup series after the spring Bristol race. That may be enough for many of his fans to decide that Jones may be one of the best up-and-coming drivers in the NASCAR garage. Erik Jones is certainly making his mark in the sport.
The Win at Bristol
Jones started the day in the fourth position and quickly let it be known that he had a strong car. He was near the front most of the day but also had to work his way back through the pack. The driver found himself mired back in the field after a pit-road speeding penalty.
The penalty came on lap 230 of the 300-lap race. Before long, Jones had worked himself back to the fourth spot when the race restarted because of a caution. Within the time span of a few Bristol laps he was fighting Ryan Blaney for the lead of the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300.
With less than ten laps to go Jones was working the back of Blaney’s bumper. Eventually Jones caught Blaney, moved him, and take the lead. Jones went on to run up front for the remaining four laps for his second win of the year. It was his second win at Bristol in the Xfinity series. The driver said it was a fun race.
“It was a day kind of like last year,” Jones said. “We didn’t really know if we had a winning car or not and to come back from a penalty like that, especially without much green-flag racing, was a lot of fun and it’s a race I won’t forget for a long time.”
The Bristol Bump and Run
When Jones moved Ryan Blaney out of the way with a slight nudge it seemed similar past races at the “Last Great Colosseum.” The speedway is famous for its short track high-banked turns. In the years leading up to the late 90’s the only way to pass at Bristol was to catch a car, tap the bumper, and move that driver up into the top lane.
The classic bump and run went away for a while as the track surface was reconfigured to allow for more passing, and racing, in the upper groove. Suddenly – the bump and run at Bristol was a thing of the past. The facility tweaked the surface a few times over the years trying to recapture the lower groove, allow for more bump and run style type racing while still allowing more action in the outer lane.
This season the track doubled the amount surface coating – think about sticky spilled cola on the floor – that they have used in the past. Combine the addition of the surface treatment, the Goodyear tires brought to the track, and the natural aging of the track and suddenly exciting racing was back at Thunder Valley! The only difference is that we did not see two drivers coming to blows or giving an interview slamming the driver that moved them up the track. Instead, Blaney contributed the move by Jones as being part of driving.
“That was just hard racing,” Blaney said of being moved by Jones for the win with only a handful of laps to go. “I can’t say I would have cut him a break if I could’ve gotten back to him.”
Becoming a Factor and Future Star
If you follow racing on any level then you’ve probably heard of Erik Jones. Even before his second win of the season the young driver has become a well-known name in stock car racing. He’s raced in the ARCA series, Camping World, Xfinity, and now is full time in the Cup Series.
Outside of all of that the driver is a staple in events such as the Snow Ball Derby. He has ten wins in similar events in a variety of car types. Outside of the track Jones has embraced all the extra activities that go with being a driver at the highest level of the sport let along working for Furniture Row Racing on the Cup side and Joe Gibbs racing on the Xfinity side. No pressure there!
It’s safe to say that Erik Jones will be around for a long time in this sport and there’s every reason in the world to believe that he’ll continue to rack up wins as he goes. Currently, following the Bristol race weekend, Jones is 12th in points in the Cup Series.
Dale Earnhardt Note: As this article was being submitted word broke that Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr would be retiring following the end of the 2017 season. This article rightfully focuses on Erik Jones. There will be plenty of time to cover the Dale Earnhardt story as the season progresses.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kent Whitaker, often called ‘the Deck Chef,’ is a sportswriter, culinary writer, and cookbook author with fourteen titles. He covers NASCAR, racing in general, Football, barbecue, grilling, and tailgating. You can visit him on The Deck Chef .”