Entering the last race of round one of the 2019 MENCS Playoffs the field took to a familiar home track, but with an unfamiliar “twist.” The traditional 1.5-mile speedway oval was converted in late 2018 to a 2.28-mile road course they now call the “ROVAL.” This 17-turn track surface has the most course changes in all of NASCAR’s Cup series schedule. This proves challenging for the Cup Series drivers, especially those competing to earn a spot in the next round of the Playoffs. Erik Jones is one of those drivers and in a tenuous position after a strong run in last week’s Richmond Raceway (Va.) event turned sour with a post-qualifying tech inspection disqualification. The No. 20 team and Jones are in a “must-win” situation going into Sunday’s main event on the Roval and started with a good first practice run on Friday, posting top-10 speeds. The team then qualified in the 15th-starting position with a two-run trial. Jones commented afterwards on his weekend outlook, “I thought we had a little bit better car than that, but I didn’t expect us to qualify much better than eighth probably. You know 15th is not where we wanted to be, we haven’t qualified well all year. It hurts pit stall more than anything and then you get some guys up in front that you’ve got to through in the first stage, get them shuffled out. We just lacked a little bit of speed obviously across the board – us the 18 (Kyle Busch), the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) weren’t able to squeeze in (to the next round). You know definitely needed a little bit more speed to be with those guys in the top five, I mean they’re a second faster than us almost. That’s a lot, but you never know how the race will play out.”
When further asked if capturing the win in Sunday’s race was going to be difficult, Jones replied, “It won’t be easy, I mean the only good thing for us is that stage points don’t matter. Stage points aren’t going to get us in, so we can play strategy whichever way we need to, to get ourselves up front. We’ve seen you can get up front and contend. The 12 (Ryan Blaney) last year got up there and put himself in a spot and had things work out. We just need to get into position, but need some more speed. We’ll know more after tomorrow in race trim, but definitely all-out speed we’re a little behind.”
The No. 20 team with Jones spend Saturday using time to adjust their Craftsman Camry, over two more practice sessions. On Sunday the green flag will drop for the main event at 2:30pm ET found on NBCSN.