By all means, Erik Jones and his No. 20 team showcased glimpses of excellence this year. Of course, the 23-year-old Byron, Mich. native emerged victorious at Darlington.
Equally important, Jones, with 10 top-fives and 17 top-10’s, earned his second straight NASCAR Playoffs appearance. As a result, the fourth-year Cup racer ranked ninth as the postseason kicked off at Las Vegas.
However, the NASCAR Playoffs, particularly the Round of 16, treated Jones rather cruelly. As an illustration, the Joe Gibbs Racing stalwart amassed two of his four DNF’s during the postseason.
In particular, Jones’ main source of incomplete results were crashes. Markedly, the Wolverine State racer wrecked out of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, Indianapolis, the Charlotte ROVAL race, and the Talladega fall race.
A point overlooked included Jones’ disqualification from the Richmond fall race. Originally finishing fourth, Jones’ No. 20 Toyota Camry failed post-race inspection due to a rear toe issue.
Chiefly, a 36th at Las Vegas and a 38th (DNQ) at Las Vegas placed Jones in a must-win situation at the Charlotte ROVAL. Unfortunately, the fourth-year Cup racer saw his postseason efforts end rather quickly in the Queen City.
Overall, Jones completed about 89 percent of the races in 2019, with all of his DNFs attributed to accidents.
Certainly, the Michigander didn’t compile as many DNFs as one of his fellow Playoffs racers. Ultimately, inconsistent finishes hampered an otherwise solid year.
Suffice to say, Jones can take heart in the fact that he’s stellar at intermediate tracks. For one thing, “That Jones Boy” posted the seventh best average finish (10.54) while logging six top-fives and 10 top-10 finishes.
Notwithstanding, Jones struggled on road courses, superspeedways, the high banked arenas of Daytona and Talladega, and short tracks. Correspondingly, the 2017 NASCAR Rookie of the Year respectively tallied average finishes of 17.33, 18.67, 19.76, and 20.5.
Nonetheless, Jones possesses raw talent beyond his young age on any given race weekend. After all, this young man rises to the occasion in crown jewel races, evident in the past two years.
Then again, Jones must finish races in 2020 if he wants to seriously contend for the NASCAR Cup Series championship. In reality, an average finish of 16.25 simply doesn’t cut it for a deep NASCAR Playoffs run.
Furthermore, Jones doesn’t ignore a simple intangible that he will possess in good time.
“It’s just a tough series, right,” Jones said after his Darlington win. “We’re in the most challenging motorsports there are in the USA, and racing these guys every week is not an easy feat. Kyle (Busch) and my teammates are some of the best guys in the sport, not only Kyle but Denny (Hamlin) and Martin (Truex Jr).
They’re tough to beat, and they have the same stuff I have, and vice versa. I have the same stuff they have but they have a wealth of experience on me.”
While possessing maturity and raw ability, Jones knows the learning curve in the NASCAR Cup Series includes humility and patience.
“You get to the Cup Series and you think you’re Superman, it’s going to be really easy,” Jones admitted. “And I never necessarily put the work in growing up through the ranks and just kind of did it and took advantage of the good cars. You get to this level and it’s not like that, it’s really challenging, and it’s definitely the biggest challenge I’ve had probably in my life.
Getting to this level and trying to get to the same level that Martin and Denny and Kyle are at is not easy. It takes a lot of time. You want to expedite that process, but sometimes there’s no other lesson than the hard knocks.”
If the past two years were learning from the school of hard knocks, Jones hopes to graduate with honors in NASCAR Playoffs and his first NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2020.
Truly, the potential for success is there for Erik Jones, but it’s a matter of when those lessons are applied on the track.