Like a stealthy cat sneaking up on a mouse, Erik Jones has been riding under the radar the last four races.
Few may realize that he’s had a pair of top-10s (8th at Pocono; 10th at Watkins Glen) and back-to-back career bests in his last two starts (tied his previous career best with a 3rd-place finish at Michigan, and then was runner-up Saturday at Bristol).
“It’s just been a consistent upward trend from the start of the year,” Steve Letarte said on Monday’s NASCAR America.
Not only did Jones finish second to winner Kyle Busch at Bristol, he also started from the pole and led 260 of the 500 scheduled laps (while Busch led 156).
“I thought he did such a good job,” Jeff Burton also said on Monday’s episode of NA. “He didn’t lose the race because of a mistake, they just got out-run by someone who’s real, real good at Bristol.”
With Darlington and Richmond still ahead to make — or miss — the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Letarte said Jones can readily win either of those races.
“We’re forced to put him on our radar for Darlington,” Letarte said. “Maybe, maybe not, it’s a tough race track. We’ll see, first time there in a Cup car.
“But Richmond, this is a short track racer going to a short track. I don’t know if Erik Jones can be ruled out at any of the upcoming two tracks.”
If the young Michigan native, who is also the leading candidate for NASCAR Cup rookie of the year, does win at either Darlington or Richmond, he could ultimately have a profound impact on the playoffs.