RACING

Erik Jones on the frustration that comes with getting better

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Erik Jones is in his second season driving the #43 (Photo: Petty GMS Racing)

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Erik Jones admits he and his No. 43 Petty GMS Motorsports team “should be thrilled”.

Midway through the 2022 NASCAR Cup season, Jones and Co. are in a much better place than they were in 2021, Jones’ first year with Petty.

After last weekend’s trip to Sonoma Raceway, Jones has one top five (Auto Club Speedway) and five top 10s. Last year, the former Joe Gibbs Racing driver had no top five and six top 10 in 36 points races.

Things are looking up for Richard Petty’s team.

But….

“Your expectations change so quickly in racing,” Jones told SPEED SPORT days after finishing a disappointing 22nd in Sonoma. “You race better and your expectations go up, and all of a sudden, you know, the top 10s are more frustrating than they were last year.

“A top 10 for us was like winning. We are racing in the top 10 and it was a party. This season, I don’t think it’s the same. We’re making it into the top 10 and that’s kind of what we feel capable of and what we can do every week. So it changes every year. I think last year at this point we were like 25th in points, obviously we’re a good step up from that right now.

“It’s sometimes hard to see that from a bigger perspective.”

Expectations can also change with the environment you occupy.

Last season was the last for Richard Petty Motorsports before it was acquired by GMS Racing in its move to the Cup Series. Now Petty GMS is a two-car operation, with Jones having a teammate in Ty Dillon and the #42 Chevy.

The tools available to the team have “changed a lot” with the expansion.

“We obviously have a lot more manpower, engineering power, just people working day in and day out on the cars to get better,” Jones said. “We’re a lot more on the simulator, which I think has been a big help for us in trying to develop the car to improve with the Chevy side.”

Of course, there’s the added benefit of having another team and driver to bounce information off of.

“Having someone to lean on and go from a setup and say, ‘Hey, we’re dealing with this, it’s better, it’s worse,’ I think that helps overall as a group,” said Jones. “Especially at the Cup level. More cars means more people, more power to figure out what’s good and what’s bad and how to make things better faster.

It almost paid off at Auto Club Speedway in February when Jones led 18 laps and finished third. Then in April, Jones led 25 laps at Talladega Superspeedway and was within sight of the checkered flag when he was passed on the straight because he was too far ahead of the field to hold a charge.

After finishing seventh at Worldwide Technology Raceway earlier this month, where does Jones plan to be a threat in the near future?

“I think Nashville coming up will be really good for us, really all the ovals right now are good for us,” said Jones, who placed 19th at the Nashville Superpeedway in 2021. “It’s quite unique and quite different. But I feel good there. I feel like our cars can run well there, some of the things we’ve done bode well.

Then there’s Michigan International Speedway, Jones’ home track. As Auto Club Speedway’s sister track, Jones and the #43 team need to circle the 2-mile race on August 7, right? Will they take the same car that almost won in Fontana, Michigan?

“We will definitely take a very similar package, I don’t know if it will be the exact same car,” Jones said. “Now it’s a little weird the way you swap clips, the cars are just weird now, but we’ll definitely have a very similar package. We can replicate that very well. I’m excited. I still want to race well in Michigan I feel like I let one get away in my rookie year (2017) we were second on the restart and I felt like I was in a good position to maybe get the win and it didn’t work.

“So I haven’t been to that place since, but I still want to race well there and fight and really feel like we can replicate what we had at the Auto Club.”

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