Erik Jones could only talk about the speed of his race car since he couldn’t show it.
“Crazy how fast this thing is,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said on the radio as last weekend’s race in Las Vegas entered its final phase. At that point, however, Jones was 13 laps down and just trying to salvage whatever positions and points he could.
Said another voice on the No. 20 radio, “We’re just going to pass them all and make a statement and show them we were here.”
A mechanical issue had forced Jones behind the wall earlier in the day. It was a tough break for a team that had broken into the top 10 after starting the worst of the playoff drivers in 26th.
“We had an issue with the throttle sticking the run before; I think it got stuck wide open when I was trying to shift to third, and obviously, you can’t shift wide open or else it’s going to jam it in the rails,” said Jones. “The rails got jammed there in the shifter on the actual transmission, and we couldn’t get it on pit road. You had to take the shifter boot off, and get in there and fix it from the top side. Had to fix it. Just unfortunate.”
Jones fell to 16th on the playoff grid, 26 points from a transfer spot. However, he doesn’t look at either Richmond or Charlotte as must-win races.
“I think we can still get in on points, the gap is not too big to climb out of,” he said. “We need to run well, no worse than top fives the next two weeks if we don’t win. I think Richmond’s our shot to win; the Roval is kind of a wildcard for us, a tougher one to win. We have to push hard. We can’t outdo ourselves and beat ourselves, but definitely have to race hard.”
Jones was the first, but not the last, playoff driver to roll snake eyes in Vegas. Including Jones, three eligible championship drivers finished 25th or worse Sunday.
Clint Bowyer was a man of few words after finishing in that 25th position. Riding a wave of confidence into the first race of the postseason – which he was happy to share with anyone who would listen all weekend – Bowyer carried that into his first pole-winning run since 2007.
Then came the drop of the green flag and Bowyer’s time at the front quickly ended. He led the first lap and then began his slid backward, failing to score any stage points. Heavy body contact with Paul Menard off a late restart resulted in a tire rub and a visit to pit road.
“We just weren’t very good tonight,” said Bowyer, who was lapped before the end of Stage 2 and remains 15th on the playoff grid. “Just off. In all areas.”
The driver 14th on the playoff grid is the one who finished last, Kurt Busch. Busch was scored with a DNF after crashing on lap 189, blowing a tire after contact with both Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott.
“We were trying to go for the same spot, in the middle,” said Busch. “We ended up four wide, got a fender rub and the day is done. It just happens that fast.”