Erik Jones wants to "take some more risks" as playoffs near
Erik Jones is walking a fine line trying to race his way into the NASCAR playoffs while also attempting to secure his NASCAR future beyond this season.
Jones’ performance has been very hit-or-miss during this unusual NASCAR Cup Series season and the circumstances haven’t exactly helped the situation for his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team.
Entering Thursday night’s race at Kansas Speedway, Jones is 24 points behind Jimmie Johnson, who currently sits in the 16th and final spot of the playoff grid. In his last six races, Jones has three finishes of sixth or better but also three finishes of 22nd or worse.
Last season, Jones signed a one-year contract extension with JGR which once again expires at the end of this season.
The pressure I would say comes from me ... I want to win races, I want to be in the playoffs, I want to contend for championships.
“It’s a performance industry and we’ve been able to make the playoffs the last two years. I feel confident still that we’re going to make them this year,” Jones said. “It’s frustrating when you’re in that spot and I don’t feel like all of what we’ve done to be in this spot is our own doing.
“We’ve had some bad races that things just didn’t go our way. Some of it has been our fault. You feel the pressure and you want to get in the playoffs and you want to perform for your team, for your sponsors and for everybody.
“But you hope that you can look over the course of your career and some of the things you’ve done over the last three years are going to add into that as well. I don’t think four or six races decide the fate of your career by any means.”
Relationship with JGR
Jones, 24, has said repeatedly he would prefer to continue his Cup series career at JGR if possible. While he’s amassed several wins in both Trucks (nine) and Xfinity (nine), wins in the Cup Series have been harder to come by.
In now his fourth fulltime season in the series, Jones has a pair of victories, with his most recent coming last year at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. His highest finish in the series standings was 15th in the 2018 season.
“I’ve had a really good relationship with JGR for quite a few years now. I put probably the most pressure on myself. I wouldn’t say JGR ever comes to me and asks questions or questions why you’re in this spot,” he said.
“They see the same things we do and the same things we struggle each weekend and why we’re in this spot. People aren’t blind to that. The pressure I would say comes from me. I just want to run well, I want to contend, I want to win races, I want to be in the playoffs, I want to contend for championships.
“That’s the goal so that’s what we have to keep working towards.”
The key to making the playoffs
Jones admits to accomplish that goal will likely require some better performances in the coming weeks, particularly finding ways to improve the team’s track position and creating opportunities for wins.
There will be little opportunity to work on the car once the team has arrived at the track. NASCAR this week announced it will stick with its current schedule of no practice or qualifying while conducting races during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve seen it the last few races where (Cole Custer) and (Austin Dillon) win races and they were just up there at the end and had clean air and as good of a chance as anybody to win,” Jones said. “We have to put ourselves in those positions.
“I think we’re adjusting strategy accordingly to what it’s going to take to get clean air because that seems to be what’s really important at the end of these races. We had four tires at the end (of Texas), but I wasn’t really going anywhere with it. The guys up front took two tires or no tires.
“We have to adjust accordingly to that and play our races more on that side of things and take some more risks probably to get up front at the end and give ourselves a shot to be on the front row and have clean air for those late-race restarts to see if you can hold them off.
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