Fortune looked to smile upon Erik Jones and the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota team after a day of handling issues and a flat tire but a multicar pileup on the final lap of overtime left the team with a 15th-place finish in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race Dover International Speedway.
The series rookie lined up sixth when the race restarted in overtime, but found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time as the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing entry was one of nine cars collected in a final-lap melee at the 1-mile, all-concrete oval.
Jones remains 18th in the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series point standings after 13 races. He is four points behind Trevor Bayne in 17th and 16 behind Ryan Newman for 15th.
“We got going fine but then the 31 (Ryan Newman) and the 13 (Ty Dillon) got together,” said Jones. “The 13 got turned around right in front of us and that was the end of our day. I was just hoping we could have stayed in the top 10 and got a good run out of the day.”
Jones put the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota on the inside of Row 4 after posting the seventh-quickest time in Friday afternoon’s qualifying session. He called in to crew chief Chris Gayle soon after the greenflag waved that the Camry’s handling was extremely loose. Five caution periods during the first 120-lap stage allowed for multiple adjustments but with little progress made to the issue. Despite that, Jones finished the stage in eighth place, earning three championship points for the effort.
Stage 2 saw much of the same, with the handling going from loose to tight and back again despite the team’s best efforts. Jones was still able to run between fifth and ninth throughout the 120-lap stage and picked up two more championship points for finishing ninth.
Jones started the final stage in 10th place. He moved into ninth on Lap 262, dropped to 11th 16 laps later but moved back into the top 10 on Lap 288. He was in that position on Lap 300 when the right-front tire went flat a, forcing him to pit under green-flag racing.
The moved dropped him to the 23rd position, two laps down to the leaders. He was able to move back into the Top 20 by Lap 339. He picked up one lap on a wave around under caution and then back on the lead lap after another caution a few laps later earned him the Lucky Dog.
He was 17th when green-flag racing resumed on Lap 349 and moved into 11th by Lap 384. The race’s final caution on Lap 398 forced the overtime, with Gayle keeping his driver on the track instead of pitting. That allowed Jones to restart in sixth place on Lap 404 and was headed for a top-10 finish when the last-lap pileup dashed those hopes.
Jones picked up five of championship points in the first two stages for eighth- and ninth-place finishes in the race’s first two stages.
“We got jumbled up with a flat right-front tire late in the race,” Jones continued. “We stayed focused and gave ourselves a shot to have a good finish but it just didn’t work out.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!