Erik Jones feels like he’s driving the best race cars he’s had since his rookie NASCAR Cup Series season. And yet he has an average finish of 15.3 and sits outside the playoff grid.
But while it would be easy to say random circumstances are the reason the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team don’t have the finishes to show for how good they are, Jones isn’t deflecting all of the blame.
“Some of it has been our own fault,” he said. “Phoenix, loose wheel to start the race, blow a tire, get in the wall, ruin our day. Charlotte we blow a right front, whether that is our fault or not, I don’t know. There’s Bristol – loose wheel, go three laps down. There’s been so many races where you kind of take yourself out it, and that’s what you can’t do in this sport trying to make the playoffs.
“We’ve had fast cars. Sonoma, we had another good car just had to start in the back. Chicago, we had an OK car, but we made a good day out of it. So we’ve got good cars, we just need to have things go our way; we need to execute better on our end on all fronts and make sure we’re doing all we can to get the best finish that we can.”
All three of Jones’ teammates at JGR have already won multiple races this season. It’s no surprise that Jones is frustrated by it, because he knows his team can win races too. And it’s a source of additional motivation to go out and do so.
Jones is the defending winner of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC), and is optimistic about a repeat. He is also really looking forward to next weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway.
Nine races remain in the regular season before the playoff grid is set. Jones has a 15-point deficit to make up on 16th-place Clint Bowyer, and he and crew chief Chris Gayle are approaching it aiming for points.
“I think for us our goal is 30 points a race, and that’s about a seventh-place finish,” said Jones. “If we can do that each and every week, nine straight races, that’s a lot to ask, but I feel like we can, and if we can do we’ll easily point our way in without a win. We know we can win a race. We have a lot of good tracks coming up here, obviously this week’s good, Kentucky is good to us, and a few more along the way. Going back to Bristol.
“So there’s some tracks marked down that we feel like we can win at, but as long as we can continue to crank out that 30 points a race, guys will make mistakes, we’ll keep pointing our way up there and get to it.”
Jones has not won a stage to pick up any playoff points and his overall stage points are low (46). Of his eight top-10 finishes this season, he’s finished a best third at Daytona, Kansas, and Pocono.
“Really our year, we’ve missed out on so many stage points it’s killed us,” Jones continued. “There’s been so races that we haven’t gotten enough stage points, and it has really put us back further in the points than we want to be. Obviously, there’s been some unfortunate circumstances with some DNFs. Just some things that we could have done probably a little bit better to earn more points in some races but I would say at this point our goal is 30 (points) a race, and if we do that, we’ll be OK.”