Erik Jones is looking forward to the return trip to the Daytona International Speedway this weekend. See, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver is in a contract year and has nothing solidified for the 2020 NASCAR season. He’s heard the rumors. Christopher Bell is coming up. JGR picked up his option for next season, so he needs somewhere to go. The other three drivers in the JGR camp on the Cup level are already under contract. So, pressure is on for Jones.
But, this weekend is his return to the site of his first and only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory. A year ago this week, Jones bested Martin Truex Jr. in the 2018 Coke Zero Sugar 400. Now, nearly 365 days later, he’s back for more. If he could win, Jones would join the back-to-back club of Coke Zero Sugar 400 winners including Fireball Roberts (1962-63), A.J. Foyt (1964-65), Cale Yarborough (1967-68), David Pearson (1972-75) and Tony Stewart (2005-06).
“Coming back as the defending champion always feels good,” Jones said. “For me, it gives you that extra little bump to keep being the defending champion, to come back and do it again.”
Jones, currently sits on the outside looking in for the Cup Series playoff standings by just three points. When you drive for JGR, that’s not going to cut it. Combine that with his three teammates having not only won in 2019, but to have reached victory lane multiple times, the time is now for Jones to shine.
The Michigan native has actually been at his best on superspeedway’s lately too. After crashing out in five of his first six points paying Daytona and Talladega starts, Jones has three top eight finishes in his last four since including his win on the high banks of Daytona last July.
Jones, also finished third in the Daytona 500 back in February capping a 1-2-3 finish for JGR in the Great American Race. He also enters this weekend with three top six finishes in his last seven starts of the season and is looking for not only a win on Saturday night, but a guaranteed playoff spot by virtue of that.
“It (superspeedway racing) has become something I like,” Jones said. “Early in my career, it drove me crazy because I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t understand it.
“As much as it’s out of your control, it’s also in your control. Just knowing better, situationally, becoming more aware on superspeedways on what situations you don’t want to be in has helped me a lot. I learned more about the draft, how to position yourself, where you need to be at certain points of the race. Learning all those things has helped me enjoy it more.”
Jones, hopes to get high 30s in points scored on Saturday night which means he’d have a good points night if he doesn’t win
Also, a win would make him the first back-to-back Coke Zero Sugar 400 winner since Tony Stewart did so in 2005 and 2006. The last driver to do so before Stewart was David Pearson in 1972, 1973 and 1974.
Last year, Jones’ win was the ninth time that a driver earned their first career Cup Series victory in the Firecracker 400. He’s hoping to not be one of the other three of that group to have this be his lone victory either.
Jones has three top eight finishes in his last four starts on the season and five in the last seven overall.