On a normal year, Erik Jones would be in a good position to make a case at a NASCAR Cup Series playoff berth. After the 19th race of the 2022 season, Jones sits 17th in points. He’s only 2 points back from 16th, which is how many spots are taken to the playoff field. Jones is also just 11 points arrears from 14th.
However, while that’s all good and well, due to 2022 being anything but usual in the Cup Series, Jones finds himself 77 points back of a playoff berth instead.
That’s because 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 18th and 19th in the overall points standings have all won this season. By Chase Briscoe and Denny Hamlin each scoring victories, it moves the wildcard spots up. They’re 2 of 13 winners that have taken provisional spots into the postseason. With 3 spots left, 2nd in points (Ryan Blaney), 6th in points Martin Truex Jr. and 8th in points (Christopher Bell) have not won. They’d take those 3 wildcard spots available. Stewart-Haas Racing teammates of Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola are also winless and sit 11th and 12th in points respectively.
That’s why Jones despite being 17th, is that far out. It’s also why he was happy but a little bit disappointed to not be taking his No. 43 Chevrolet for Petty Ware Racing to victory lane on a hot summer day in Georgia in Sunday’s Quaker State 400 too.
Jones was a factor in Atlanta. He was 14th in Stage 1 and 17th in Stage 2. But there he was in the lead group in the end. He just didn’t have enough and had to settle for 4th instead.
“I thought our day was good,” Jones said. “Our No. 43 FOCUSfactor Chevy was quick. We needed a tick more speed. I think we had to do some things for handling that slowed us down a little bit. We were up there, but I couldn’t really break out and do much. When I got in the lead there, I wasn’t really quick enough to hold it myself. We were close. It feels good to just have a good race. We’ve had a rough month, so it’s nice to get a top-five and get some points.”
Unfortunately, he’s likely in a must win scenario. It’s going to be hard to make up that much ground on a pair of Gibbs cars as well as a pair of SHR machines. He does have 3 top 11 finishes in the last 5 weeks, but that’s not going to get it done. That’s why days and tracks like Atlanta, he knows he has to capitalize.
The next best shot is Daytona next month. Jones picked up his 1st career win at Daytona in this very race in 2017. He won the Clash in 2020 there. It’s also the spot where RPM last won a race from Aric Almirola in the 2014 Coke Zero Sugar 400.