Date: May 17, 2020
Event: The Real Heroes 400 (Round 5 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Cup Series
Location: Darlington Raceway (1.366-mile oval)
Format: 293 laps (Stages: 90 laps/185 laps/293 laps)
Start/Finish: 20th/8th (Running, Completed 293 of 293 laps)
Point Standings: 17th (107 points, 111 points out of 1st)
Race Winner: Kevin Harvick
Stage 1 Winner: William Byron
Stage 2 Winner: Brad Keselowski
Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1 – 90)
- Erik Jones and the No. 20 DEWALT ATOMIC Thank You Heroes Toyota Camry team started Sunday’s race at Darlington Raceway from the 20th position and finished stage one in 11th place.
- With no practice or qualifying, Jones rolled off from the 20th starting position and moved up to 16th before the first caution on lap one for a single-car incident. Jones opted to stay out and restarted the race from 16th on lap six.
- NASCAR waved the caution flag on lap 30 for a scheduled competition caution. Crew chief Chris Gayle called Jones to pit road from the 11th position for four tires, fuel and a round of adjustments. The race restarted on lap 39 with Jones in the 11th spot.
- Reporting to the team he needed more rear grip, Jones was scored in the 11th position when the caution waved on lap 90 to end stage one. Gayle called Jones to pit road for four tires, fuel and another round of adjustments.
Stage 2 Recap (Laps 91 – 185)
- Jones started the second stage from the 13th position and finished the stage in 10th.
- The race restarted on lap 97 for the second stage with Jones in the 13th position. Continuing to lack rear grip, Jones made routine stops throughout the stage for four tires, fuel and to continue improving the handling of the No. 20 DEWALT ATOMIC Thank You Heroes Camry.
- Jones was able to run as high as eighth before finishing the stage in the 10th position. Gayle again called Jones to pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments. With a fast stop by the DEWALT crew, Jones gained two spots on pit road.
Stage 3 Recap (Laps 186 – 293)
- Jones started the final stage from eighth place and finished the race in the same position.
- With the balance pretty close to his liking throughout the stage, Jones ran as high as fifth during the stage before a vibration during the final 25 laps slowed the DEWALT Camry.
- Jones was able to hold on to a top 10 finish to cross the finish line in the eighth spot.
ERIK JONES, No. 20 DEWALT ATOMIC Thank You Heroes Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 8th
What stood out most to you about today?
“It was just unique. It really felt like you were just there for a test with nobody being there. Then you get on pit road, and it feels more like a race. You are just missing the fans. Unique, different. It was weird standing there for the anthem and it’s playing over the loudspeakers and then you hop in and go. It was really expedited. The longest part of the day was I got there probably way too early. I got there around 9:45 and I had to sit there for five hours. So, a long day from that standpoint, but once things started rolling and we went out to the cars it was time to go. A lot different and kind of the new normal for right now, but it paid off just being able to get out there and go run.”
What do you like about racing at Darlington?
“I don’t know, I just have a really good feel for there. I feel like I can move around and try some different stuff. I feel like I have one groove that works really well for me when I can get my car to do the things, I want it to do to run and that’s paid off really well for me the last four races. I’ve always felt really comfortable. Obviously, a lot different this race not having practice and not being able to tune on the car and get it where you want it to be. I think that’s the other part. The last few years at Darlington, we’ve done a really good job in practice of getting the car doing what it needs to do in practice to be good at night in the race. Even through, maybe it’s not the fastest during the day. Darlington’s just somewhere I’ve always felt comfortable. There and Bristol are the two places that I feel the most comfortable on the schedule.”
What happened towards the end of the race?
“We had a loose wheel and we saw it after the race. I was pretty sure it was loose there on the last restart and knowing we only had like 30-35 laps to get to the end, I figured we could make it. The last five laps it really started bothering the race car and kind of upsetting it. That’s why my pace really fell off. I fired off really good. That was the best the car was all day. I think we could have probably run fourth at best, maybe fifth if we didn’t have that loose wheel. But still, good to bring home eighth. We’ve had a rough start to the year before this break. Only had one top-10. Eighth’s our best finish to this point, so we have to keep improving from there. I felt like our cars were better today than what they were the last time we raced. We will continue to work on them. We have some work to do to get up to the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and the 88 (Alex Bowman). They were pretty long gone today. Not sure we can do a whole lot for Wednesday, but I think we can definitely make some gains to be a lot closer.
Do you think some gains can be made for Wednesday?
“Yeah, the positive thing from today is we made really good gains all day long. We continued to get the car better each stop. We continued to get it faster and the last run of the race was the best the car was all day. We had the car how we needed it. We just had the loose wheel issue. I think that gives us at least a good baseline to start Wednesday. The race ended there around 7:15-7:20, so a little bit closer to dark and a little bit closer to what we will be racing at on Wednesday at the start of the race. Hopefully, we can start at that point and be close and make a few adjustments from there and be up in the top five more than the back of the top 10 like we were today.”
- With his eighth-place finish, Jones scored his best finish of the season and his second top-10 finish of the season.
- Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin finished fifth, Martin Truex, Jr. finished sixth and Kyle Busch finished 26th.
- After a two month hiatus, NASCAR returned to action Sunday afternoon for just the fifth race of the 2020 season.
Up Next: The NASCAR Cup Series will remain at Darlington Raceway to run the sixth race of the season on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. The Toyota 400 will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 and MRN radio beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.