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Erik Jones Facing Challenging Return

Erik Jones will miss his second-consecutive race after getting injured at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo: Ricky Martinez | The Podium Finish)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Once or twice a year, a NASCAR driver suffers a crash that fans can immediately tell looks bad.

A few weeks back at the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR fans were treated to one.

Due to a poorly executed bump draft, Erik Jones’ No. 43 car smashed into the Turns 3-4 wall head-on, an impact eerily similar to the crash that took Dale Earnhardt’s life in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Of course, Jones survived his hit, but he didn’t get out scot-free.

He announced the following Tuesday that he would sit out the Würth 400 at Dover Motor Speedway thanks to a spinal fracture. Corey Heim has taken over the No. 43 until Jones returns.

As difficult as back injuries can be to handle, they aren’t exactly a rarity in NASCAR. Drivers like Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, Stewart Friesen and Greg Van Alst have all suffered spinal fractures in the last 11 years.

This is a problem that is independent of the Next Gen car. In fact, several of them haven’t even been in a NASCAR car. 

Almirola and Hamlin had their injuries in the Gen Six car, Friesen and Van Alst were in trucks, Stewart was in a dune buggy and Bowman was in a sprint car when they had their accidents.

Still, these drivers shared a similar road to recovery that Jones can go to for support and advice.

“[I] definitely wish him the best,” Bowman said. “It sounds like his recovery is probably quite a bit shorter than mine was, so that’s great to see. It’s definitely not a lot of fun.”

Corey Heim wheels the No. 43 STP Toyota at Dover Motor Speedway. (Photo: Daniel Rankin | The Podium Finish)

While there is a chance Jones is back for the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway, no back injury should be taken lightly. Most will tell you that missing time is better than risking further compounding issues.

It’s out of an abundance of caution that Jones is sitting out the Advent Health 400 at Kansas Speedway.

“I don’t envy his position,” said Jimmie Johnson, co-owner of Legacy Motor Club. “I really do appreciate his willingness to hear us out. My concern is we’re at a fast track and an impact like that could happen again, and is his body ready for that. He came to his own answer and realized that it’s probably early.”

Bowman and Hamlin both had their injuries in the first third of the season as Jones did. Both said that getting back to full strength in the car took longer than expected, and that some tracks provided bigger challenges than others.

“We went through the toughest one at Dover,” said Hamlin. “That one seems to be one that the driver undergoes a tremendous mental load.”

“Road courses mostly,” added Bowman. “Any road course was super painful. I’d say high-braking load places were the hardest for me. Everybody’s different.”

Jones’ injury is similar to Hamlin, Almirola and Bowman’s where they occurred in the early portions of the season.


Erik Jones is in his eighth full time season in the NASCAR Cup Series. (Photo: Cornnell Chu | The Podium Finish).

This still gives Jones a shot at making the Playoffs, although now the approach will change.

“Missing a race truly takes us out of an opportunity to make the Playoffs on points,” Johnson said. “If it’s one race, two races, three races that he misses, that window unfortunately closes and it’s really about winning a race.

“It’s not that we never wanted to win, but it just really gives us that one lane of making the Playoffs, and we feel like [Jones], on points, would have been able to make the top-16.”

Even with the win-and-you’re-in style of NASCAR Playoffs, history suggests that overcoming a back injury midseason is a tall task.

Hamlin, Bowman and Almirola all missed the Playoffs in the year of their injuries, as it can take time to get back to speed.

For Bowman, every week felt different. The worse for him was the Indianapolis Road Course, which took place three months after he returned to the car.

“It depended on the week,” Bowman said. “First week back at Charlotte, my back didn’t hurt during the race at all.”

Jones has been at Dover and Kansas in a supporting role. He plans to return for next week’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington, a track he has won at twice in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Harry Loomis is a 23-year old co-managing editor of The Podium Finish. He joined TPF in September 2023, having previously written for his own racing outlet. He graduated from Missouri Western State University in May 2023, earning his degree in Convergent Journalism. At Missouri Western, Loomis became the Sports Director of Griffon Media, becoming a trusted member of the student newspaper and weekly newscasts. A passionate race fan since age six, Loomis is originally from St. Charles, MO, and is a big NHL and MLB fan.

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