Erik Jones keeps gobbling up points.
A month ago, Jones declared that the goal for the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team was to score at least 30 points a race in the fight for the playoffs. Jones, crew chief Chris Gayle and company have been overachieving in that quest, and as a result have gone from the outside looking in, to building a nice cushion on the cutline.
Jones finished fourth at Watkins Glen, his fourth consecutive top-five finish. At 13th in the standings with four races left in the regular season, Jones is now 54 points above the 17th-place driver and feels his team is “real close” to being able to race for wins instead of worrying about points.
“We’re right on the edge of that,” said Jones. “We’re over a race up, so we can definitely have a race where things don’t necessarily go our way; but we don’t want to get in a spot here with two races to go where we’re back in position where we have to really salvage points.
“We’ve done a great job this last month and a half of carving our way back into it and getting toward the top of the non-winners in the playoff picture, which is a good feeling.
“Where we should be and where we belong – it’s nice to be up there. Points are off the mind a little bit more than they have been the last few weeks.”
The turnaround has been nothing short of impressive. Going into Daytona on July 7, Jones was 18th in the standings and in a 15-point hole. At the time, the team was seeking consistency to match the fast cars Jones said he had, whereas the finishes had been a mixture of bad luck and self-inflicted mistakes.
He earned 14 points at Daytona after being caught in an accident and finishing 23rd before the recent surge of top fives began.
Jones finished third in Kentucky and earned 43 points.
He repeated the exact same performance with points earned the following week in New Hampshire.
A second-place run in Pocono also netted Jones 43 points. Afterward, Jones said the turnaround had been the product of “things having been cleaned up.”
Sunday, Jones earned 39 points by finishing eighth in both stages and fourth in the end.
“It’s good to keep it all going,” said Jones. “Watkins Glen is kind of the wild card in there, being a road course and everything. We’ve been on some tracks that have been really good to us and Watkins Glen has been good to us; but still, you never know what can happen on strategy. It worked out the best it really could.
“I made a mistake yesterday (blowing a tire in qualifying); we started too far back and it took us all day to get the DeWalt Camry up front. I felt like we had a fifth-place car all through practice and were able to get a little better finish than that. It’s nice to keep that streak going, and now we’re heading to two places — Michigan next week and then Bristol — where I think we can win.
“We have some really good momentum now. You can’t keep running up in the top five every week and not win a race. That’s what I keep telling myself, and hopefully we can do it here soon.”