Erik Jones to make 200th Cup career start at Nashville

Competing in his sixth full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series, Erik Jones is within striking distance of achieving a milestone start. By competing in this weekend’s event at Nashville Superspeedway, the driver of the No. 43 Petty GMS Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 will make his 200th career start in NASCAR’s premier series.

A native of Byron, Michigan, Jones, who was vying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers’ championship with Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2015, made his inaugural presence in the Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway in April 2015. During an early rain delay at Bristol, Jones relieved veteran Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota Camry due to Hamlin suffering neck spasms and opting to sit out for the remainder of the event. Dropping to the rear of the field when the race restarted, Jones nursed the No. 11 Toyota to a 26th-place result in his unofficial Cup debut.

A month later, Jones made his official Cup Series debut at Kansas Speedway in the No. 18 JGR Toyota Camry in place of Kyle Busch, Jones’ Truck Series boss and teammate who was recovering from injuries that included a compound fracture to his right leg stemming from the Xfinity Series’ season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway in February. During the event at Kansas, Jones, who started 12th, was competitive as he led a single lap and ran upfront against the sport’s elite. His race, however, came to an end with 72 laps remaining when he got loose entering Turn 4 and made contact with the outside wall while battling Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson in the top five. The wreck relegated Jones to a 40th-place result in his premier series’ debut.

Another six months later, Jones returned to the Cup Series and campaigned in two of the final three scheduled events in JGR’s No. 20 Toyota Camry, where he replaced Matt Kenseth as the 2003 Cup champion was serving a two-race suspension for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville Speedway in early November. Making his first start in the No. 20 car at Texas Motor Speedway, Jones started sixth and finished a season-high 12th place. He went on to finish 19th at Phoenix Raceway, which was shortened due to rain.

After winning the 2015 Truck Series title and finishing in fourth place in the 2016 Xfinity Series driver’s standings with four victories along with claiming the Rookie-of-the-Year title, Jones earned a full-time ride with Furniture Row Racing, which expanded to a two-car effort for the first time in the team’s history. Piloting the No. 77 Toyota Camry, Jones’ rookie Cup season started off on a rough note when he was involved in a multi-car wreck past the midway portion of the Daytona 500 that also involved his Joe Gibbs Racing affiliated teammates Kyle Busch and Kenseth. He rallied three races later by achieving his first top-10 career finish in the Cup circuit at Phoenix Raceway, where he finished eighth.

Through the first half of the 2017 Cup Series season, Jones recorded five top-10 results, including a career-best third-place result at Pocono Raceway in June, and was in 14th place in the regular season standings with an opportunity to make his first Playoff appearance as a title contender. Five races later, he recorded another third-place result at Michigan International Speedway, his home track. Then at Bristol Motor Speedway in August, he achieved his first career pole in the Cup circuit and led a race-high 260 laps during the main event before settling in a career-best runner-up result behind Kyle Busch. Despite finishing fifth and sixth in the following two races, Jones was unable to move into the top-16 cutline to make the 2017 Cup Playoffs. Nonetheless, he went on to post three top-10 results throughout the 10-race Playoffs and cap off his rookie Cup season in 19th place in the final standings. By then, Jones claimed the 2017 Cup Rookie-of-the-Year title and became the first competitor to achieve the Rookie-of-the-Year title across NASCAR’s top three national touring series (Cup, Xfinity and Truck).

In 2018, Jones reunited with Joe Gibbs Racing and replaced Matt Kenseth as driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry. In a similar approach to his rookie Cup season, Jones was involved in a multi-car accident during the Daytona 500 and was strapped with an early DNF in 36th place. Hee rebounded by finishing in the top 10 in four of the following six events.

Through the first 17 events of the 2018 Cup season, Jones achieved seven top-10 results, a best on-track result of fourth place at Texas Motor Speedway in April and were in 14th place in the regular-season standings. Then during the following race at Daytona International Speedway, Jones rallied from being involved in a multi-car wreck near the midway point to overtake ex-teammate Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap and score his first Cup victory in his 57th series start. By becoming the 190th different competitor to achieve a victory in NASCAR’s premier series and the ninth to do so while competing for Joe Gibbs Racing, Jones guaranteed himself and his No. 20 JGR Toyota team a spot to the 2018 Cup Playoffs. 

Following his victory at Daytona, Jones went on to finish in the top 10 in six of the remaining eight regular-season events, including a runner-up result at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in September, before entering the Playoffs as one of 16 competitors vying for the title. During the first round of the Playoffs, however, Jones finished 40th, 11th and 30th respectively, which were enough to eliminate him from title contention along with names like Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon and teammate Denny Hamlin. He went on to finish in the top 10 in four of the remaining seven Playoff races before concluding his sophomore Cup season in a career-best 15th place in the standings. By then, he had nearly doubled his top-five results in a season and collected four additional top-10 results in comparison to his rookie season. He also recorded a career-best average-finishing result of 14.0.

Remaining at JGR for the 2019 season, Jones achieved his first top-five result in the Daytona 500 by finishing in third place behind teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Through the first 24 events of the 2019 Cup season, Jones achieved 12 top-10 results, a best result of second place at Pocono in and was in 14th place in the regular-season standings. For the following race at Darlington Raceway in September, where marked his 100th career start in the Cup circuit, Jones held off a late challenge from teammate Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson to claim his first elusive Cup victory of the season and the second of his career. The Southern 500 victory, which marked Jones’ first crown-jewel victory in NASCAR, was enough for him to race his way into the Playoffs for a second consecutive season, where he joined teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. for the title fight.

Despite entering the 2019 Cup Playoffs with late momentum, Jones’ title run came to an early end following three consecutive results outside of the top 30 in the Round of 16. During the first round of the Playoffs, he initially finished in fourth place at Richmond Raceway in September, but was then disqualified due to his car failing post-race inspection. Jones spent the remaining seven scheduled events by finishing in the top 10 three times, which included a third-place result in the season-finale event at Homestead, as he capped off his junior Cup season in 16th place in the final standings. While he achieved one victory throughout the entire season, he also achieved a career-high 10 top-five results.

Jones commenced the 2020 Cup Series season by winning the non-points Busch Clash at Daytona in February with a heavily damaged race car after being involved in three separate multi-car wrecks. Despite the damage, Jones, who managed to continue, received drafting help from teammate Hamlin, who was a lap behind, on the final lap to overtake the heavily reduced field and rocket away to the victory. Compared to his previous two Cup seasons, however, Jones did not record a single victory throughout the 2020 season and did not return to the Playoffs as he only achieved nine top-five results, a season-best result of second place at Talladega Superspeedway in October, 13 top-10 results and a final points result of 17th place.

Three months prior to the conclusion of the 2020 season, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Jones will not be remaining as the driver of the No. 20 Toyota in favor of Christopher Bell. Nonetheless, Jones secured a ride for the 2021 season in the iconic No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE with Richard Petty Motorsports. The 2021 season was a difficult season for the Michigan native, who commenced the season by finishing 39th in the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 after being eliminated in an early multi-car wreck. He then recorded a total of three results in the top 10 throughout the 26-race regular season stretch, including a season-high seventh place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in August, as he missed the Playoffs for a second consecutive season. Jones went on to post three additional top-10 results throughout the 10-race Playoff stretch before settling in 24th place in the 2021 standings.

Remaining as the driver of the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 while Richard Petty Motorsports merged with GMS Racing to form Petty GMS Motorsports, Jones, who was paired with crew chief Dave Elenz, has achieved a total of five top-10 results through the first 16 scheduled events with his best result occurring at Auto Club Speedway in February, where he led 18 laps and finished third. His other highlight occurred at Talladega Superspeedway in April, where he led 25 laps and was leading on the final lap before getting shuffled through the tri-oval and settling back in sixth place.

Photo by Bruce Nuttleman for SpeedwayMedia.com.

Through 199 previous Cup starts, Jones has achieved two career victories, two poles, 34 top-five results, 73 top-10 results, 707 laps led and an average-finishing result of 16.8. He is currently trailing the cutline to make the 2022 Cup Playoffs by 55 points with 10 regular season events remaining to the schedule.

Jones is scheduled to achieve his 200th Cup Series career start at Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday, June 26, with coverage to commence as 5 p.m. ET on NBC.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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