Erik Jones missed graduation ceremonies at his Michigan high school in 2014 because he was racing at Texas Motor Speedway.
But the Speedway went ahead and held a special graduation ceremony where Jones received his diploma – in cap and gown, no less – before shortly climbing into his race truck.
In Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, Jones got an education of another kind.
And it was a valuable lesson learned, struggling to a 22nd-place finish in his second career Cup race at the newly repaved 1.5-mile track.
Jones’ teammate, Martin Truex Jr., finished eighth.
No matter what crew chief Chris Gayle tried, the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota Camry failed to respond, leaving Jones with a handful to drive for 500 miles.
That wasn’t all.
There was a pit road contact Chris Buescher that put a hole in the front end of Jones’ car early in the race, tire problems and even garbage stuck to the front end grill, leaving Jones and the No. 77 with their second-worst finish of the season.
“There’s really nothing we can take as a positive from this race that we can apply for the next time we’re here other than the need to get better,” Jones said in a media release. “We tried everything we could to make the 5-hour Energy Toyota Camry to handle better but nothing worked. It was just a very frustrating day for the entire Furniture Row Racing team.”
Actually, it was more of a frustrating weekend on the Cup side. While he won Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, Jones wrecked his primary Cup car in practice on Friday, failed to make an attempt in qualifying later that same afternoon and started 36th position.
Jones finished 20th at the end of both Stage 1 and Stage 2 in Sunday’s race and could not improve after that.
Jones, one of five drivers competing for NASCAR Cup Rookie of the Year, left Texas not only with a disappointing finish, but also dropped one spot in the standings to 14th.
“It was a frustrating race that forced Erik to have his hands full all day,” Gayle said. “It was one of those days that you hope doesn’t happen very often, or really at all, where you just don’t know what’s wrong with the car, the speed is just off and not consistent enough to race hard.
“We just struggled. It could have be a little bit of nose damage or something, but we totally missed it.”