Byron native and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones found out having a teammate can be a pain at times.
It was on Sunday.
Competing at the Grander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway, Jones finished in second place, just .341 seconds behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, earning Jones his third second-place finish in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup career.
Racing in his Reser’s Main St. Bistro Toyota, Jones started second during an overtime resart, only behind Hamlin. With both on the verge of possibly running out of fuel, Hamlin was able to edge ahead of the field during the final restart, earning Hamlin his third win of the 2019 season. Meanwhile, Jones, who is 13th in the season point standings, earned his third straight top-three finish and his fifth in the last 10 races.
“It’s always a challenge,” Jones said about trying to win while conserving fuel at the end of the race. “It’s probably my least favorite part of racing at times, when you just have to save fuel. And our opportunity to win when we were going green was to make it until the end. It would’ve been really tight. ... We had a couple of good opportunities on the restarts. The Reeser’s Camary was there all day. Well, the second half of the day. We had some problems at the start.”
Jones led for 10 laps. All 10 laps came from lap 134 to 143. Hamlin passed him and never lost the lead from that point.
Due to Jones’s recent success, it’s looking like Jones will qualify for the playoffs. He holds the 13th of 16 playoff spots, 37 points ahead of 17th-place Jimmie Johnson. The top 16 advance for the playoff chase. The last two weeks prior to Pocono, Jones finished in third place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and at Kentucky Speedway.
“Man, it’s a bummer,” Jones said. “We are close every week — third, third and second — so we are right there. We are doing great building points, but it would be nice to knock a win out, and we are so close. It stings a little more when you are that close.”
Before the recent three-race run, Jones was in 18th in the season point standings, two places outside of a playoff spot. A full-time driver can automatically qualify for the playoffs by earning a victory. After all those with victories are accounted for, the drivers with the most season points without a win qualify up to the 16th position.
There are five more regular season races, including one at Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 11, before the playoffs begin. With only nine winners so far this season, Jones can probably qualify based on season points.
Jones, who is in his third season in NASCAR’s top circuit, has won once. He won the July 4 race at Daytona International Speedway in 2018. So far this season, he has seven top fives and 11 top 10s among this year’s 21 races.
“It’s great to have another top-three run,” Jones said. “We just have to break through, and once we get that first one, I think we can click a few.”