Erik Jones: It’s time for better finishes and future

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Erik Jones doesn’t need to look at a clock to know now is his time.

The Michigan native earned a season-best third-place finish – and his second top-five in the last three starts – in Sunday’s back half of the NASCAR Cup doubleheader weekend at Pocono Raceway.

It couldn’t have come at a better time, as Jones is closing in on the end of a one-year contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing he signed last year. His future remains uncertain.

“We started talking to them about next year and what we’re going to do moving forward,” Jones said after the race.

“I feel like right now that’s kind of the plan, working with them. We’ll see what happens, but I feel good about it right now moving forward.”

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said on June 17 that it’s his hope to keep both Jones and Christopher Bell in the manufacturer’s fold.

“We all know that Erik is at the end of his current contract,” Wilson said. “What’s the plan there? We don’t know. We’re working on that. (Car owner Joe Gibbs) and I are talking about that now every week. Our desire obviously is to keep both of those young men in our company. How we do it is yet to be determined.”

Jones’ finish Sunday was a strong rebound after finishing 38th in Saturday’s race due to a wreck.

“We needed a good run, a good rebound,” he said. “It’s great we finished third, but in a way it’s frustrating because I think our primary car (in Saturday’s) race was quite a bit better than our backup car was today, but obviously third is a good run.”

After struggling through much of the season – including seven showings of 20th or worse in the first 14 events – Jones believes he’s turned a corner and sees more promising results ahead.

“It’s nice to rebound and hope we can keep the momentum going next week and keep going strong,” Hamlin said. “It’s nice to run a normal race. I think on a normal weekend we can run top five and I think we showed that today.”

Sunday’s finish – Jones’ sixth top-10 in eight career Cup starts at Pocono – also put Jones back in the top 16 Cup playoff rankings.

“We feel like we definitely should make the playoffs,” said Jones, who entered Sunday six points out of a playoff spot. “We’ve done that the last few years and I don’t see this year as any different.

“Hopefully we can keep moving forward. We’ve got good racetracks coming up for us, places we’ve run well at in the past, I think we’re going to keep racking up some good finishes here and hopefully get a win here pretty soon.

“I think our cars are way faster than a 16th-place team. Hopefully we can keep up the good runs. We just need three-four more races running strong like we need to, get some stage points and we’ll be in the top 12 pretty quickly.

“… It’s not even a question in my mind, making the playoffs or not. I feel we’ll be strong enough here to get a win at a race here in the next month or two.”

Earlier in the day, Jones drew attention for a tweet he posted criticizing over-aggressive driving by many in the field of the Xfinity Series race, which preceded the Cup race.

The most notable example of that was when Justin Haley hooked Riley Herbst on the Pocono straightaway. NASCAR held Haley for two laps on pit road after the incident and met with Haley and crew chief Alex Yontz after the race.

“The Xfinity Series is in kind of a weird spot right now,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of young guys, very talented guys, don’t get me wrong, but definitely some of the guys can click it down a notch.

“I watch it on TV every week and it’s like, man, some of those guys are so fast and some of the things they do just blows your mind. The way I grew up racing, hooking somebody on the straightaway is pretty out there. I don’t think you want to face the repercussions of what would have happened coming into the pits.

“It’s just kind of a lack of respect. I grew up with a lot of respect in racing and respect for my equipment and competitors. I don’t believe in intentionally wrecking people. I think that’s pretty low, low-class and doesn’t belong in our sport. It’s just Saturday night, Mickey Mouse stuff and I don’t like to see it.”

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Xfinity playoff grid after Indianapolis

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Chase Briscoe‘s continued dominance of the Xfinity Series over the weekend on the Indianapolis road course ensured no additional drivers locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Through 13 races, Briscoe and four other drivers have qualified for the playoffs via race wins. Briscoe, who has five race wins, leads the field with 28 playoff points.

The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Riley Herbst (+19 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+6 points).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-6), Alex Labbe (-32), Jeremy Clements (-49) and Josh Williams (-57).

Cup Series playoff grid after Brickyard 400

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With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.

But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.

After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.

Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.

After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.

With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Oval or road course? Cup drivers address future of Brickyard 400

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For 27 years, the Cup Series has competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its annual Brickyard 400. All 27 of those races have been run exclusively on the track’s traditional 2.5-mile oval.

But following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the track’s 2.4-mile, 14-turn road course, an obvious question has been raised:

Should the Brickyard 400 remain on the oval, where passing is made difficult due to a combination of the rules package and the design of the track, or should moving it to the road course be considered?

“I would never vote for that,” Kevin Harvick declared last week before he won his third Brickyard 400 on Sunday. “I love everything about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For me it is all about the oval … racing on the traditional track because for me I am kind of old school and I think that the Cup cars belong and really started the Brickyard 400.

“That was kind of what it was always meant to be, that iconic one-off, just the Cup cars event. I think with the Xfinity cars and the trucks and (ARCA Menards) cars and all the things that used to race at IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park), it was a great event. Hopefully the road course can kind of take that role that IRP used to have and be able to bring the Indy cars and NASCAR together to add to that event at the Speedway. For me personally, I would never vote for the Cup cars to not run on the oval.”

Harvick is joined in that camp by his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Aric Almirola, who finished third in Sunday’s race for his first top five and top-10 finish at Indy.

“I hope that we never stop running the oval,” Almirola said. “I just think it’s one of these places that regardless if it puts on the greatest race or not, it’s historic. It’s just a special place. It’s hard to explain when you don’t grow up a racer and you don’t aspire to come to race at Indy.

“But for me, I grew up watching stock car racing and dirt sprint car racing. I grew up watching Thursday Night Thunder, seeing so many guys go from USAC racing and sprint car racing to racing at Indy. It’s something I’ve always kept up with, always dreamed about getting the opportunity to race here. I get that opportunity now.”

Matt Kenseth, who finished second Sunday in his 20th Brickyard 400, said the Cup Series “should be” on the oval. But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is open to the idea of Cup using the road course in some manner.

 “I think it’s one of those racetracks that we need to race at as long as we can,” Kenseth said of the oval. “It’s arguably the most famous speedway in the world, or one of them.

“To be able to race on the ovals with the Cup cars, which is the highest form of stock car racing here, we should be on the big track as well. I don’t think it would be bad to maybe test the road course and look into it, maybe do a second race on a road course, kind of like the IndyCars did this week.

“I really do think the Brickyard 400 has a lot of prestige. It’s not a southern race, but similar to the Southern 500, races like that. I think there’s a few of those races you sure would hate to see disappear.”

Crew chief describes ‘frightening’ scene on pit road at Indy

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Crew chief Todd Gordon said it was “frightening” to see rear tire changer Zach Price hit on pit road and then try to scoot away from cars during Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Price, who changes tires for Ryan Blaney’s team, was injured when he was struck by Brennan Poole’s car during a melee near the entrance of pit road early in the race.

Gordon, speaking Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said indications are that Price’s injury was a “fracture someplace in the knee area.”

Price was treated and released from an Indianapolis hospital on Sunday night and traveled home with the team. Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Price was scheduled to see a doctor Monday.

“Just hope to get him back and get him back going again and healthy,” Gordon said.

Gordon described what he saw as cars made contact.

“A really frightening moment for me,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I was really terrorized when I saw (Price) drag himself back across the pit box arms only for a while there. As the situation kind of progressed and the medical staff was working with him, I could see in his face he was better off than I thought he was to start with.

“Fortunate that the guys got up and got at least in the air. The jackman (Graham Stoddard) got on top of the car. Just one of those terrible situations. I felt like those accidents happened mid-pit road. That’s why I picked way back there to be behind it.”

Said Justin Allgaier, who was involved in the accident on pit road that led to six cars eventually being eliminated:  “The No. 15 (Poole) actually got in the back of me. I didn’t know if I got the gentleman on (Blaney’s pit crew) or not. Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled-up there, one car after another were getting run into.”

Indianapolis’ pit road is the most narrow of all the tracks the Cup Series races. The two travel lanes are 24 feet wide. The pit stall for each team is 15 feet wide.