Erik Jones knew that Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at the Richmond (VA) Raceway would be a great chance to close the gap between himself and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff bubble.
Jones, entered the penultimate race of the opening round 26 points behind the cutoff spot. But, his Joe Gibbs Racing organization had won the last three races on the .75-mile short track and six of the last eight overall.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising to see them combine to lead well over 300 laps as a collective group and finish 1-2-3-4.
Jones, earned his first career Richmond top five in a fourth place run in his No. 20 Toyota. He made up 23 points on the bubble as he’s now just three points back heading to the Charlotte ROVAL next weekend.
Combine that with other playoff drivers struggling as expected, and you get why Jones is feeling confident for his chances at advancing to the Round of 12.
Jones, has six top four finishes in his last 10 starts on the season. He’s chasing Alex Bowman who finished 25th on Saturday night who’s had just one top five finish in his last 16 starts on the year.
Bowman, got into a dust up with Austin Dillon early in Saturday night’s race and finished outside the top 10 again. He’s -2 in the standings.
William Byron had a tire rub early too and suffered damage in that Bowman/Dillon mishap. He’d finish 25th and is +2 on the playoff bubble. Byron, has just two top 10 finishes in his last 11 starts on the year.
Aric Almirola is in 11th, +3, as he never was a factor in a 17th place run. He hasn’t had a top 10 finish since Daytona in early July and a top five at that since Phoenix in mid-March.
Ryan Blaney is 10th, only +8 as he earned a career tying finish of 18th at Richmond. Yes, 18th ties the best finish at Richmond for the Team Penske driver.
Below Jones is Clint Bowyer who’s -5. He finished ninth on Saturday but has only scored one top five finish in his last 14 starts on the season.
Kurt Busch had another rough night and came away 19th. He’s scored only one top five in his last 13 starts on the year.
So, as you can see, it was a great night for Jones.
It was also a great night for Ryan Newman who finished sixth in his No. 6 Ford. The Roush/Fenway Racing driver was around the top 10 all night and scored some solid stage points. He went from below the cutoff line to +13 as he looks like a good contender to move on.
Jones, should now too, as Blaney, Almirola, Byron, Bowman, Bowyer and Busch should be worried. Two of them can still make it though.