Erik Jones and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team were facing the possibility of not making the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as they headed into the weekend at Pocono Raceway.
But Jones was able to improve his chances with a much needed strong run Sunday afternoon after using various pit strategy throughout the Gander RV 400. The Michigan native qualified fourth giving him great track position for Sunday’s race and was able to capture a second-place finish.
However, it was almost a disastrous day for the No. 20 JGR driver. It all started in the first stage during the pit stops when Jones pitted from the top five in order to gain track position for Stage 2 and the wrench broke during the stop. In what could have been a prominent problem for Jones, he caught a lucky break when the wrench did not become an issue. Jones went on to finish seventh in Stage 1.
For Stage 2, Jones would wind up restarting back in the pack and would have to work his way back up through the field once more. With a few lucky cautions and pitting again during the second stage, he would once again finish seventh in the second stage.
Things got a bit more interesting in the final stage when fuel became a concern among the drivers, including Jones, who was in the top three. He was told by his crew that he was two laps short with 33 to go. From there, Jones was trying all he could do to save what he needed in case the race went green the rest of the way.
Jones, who was leading the race, was passed by eventual race winner and teammate Denny Hamlin with 17 to go, then he was passed by Truex a couple of laps later. The No. 20 team caught a timely caution with eight to go, allowing Jones to save fuel under the caution period.
Despite having one more shot at the win, the JGR driver had to settle for a second-place finish, finishing .341 seconds behind his teammate and race winner Denny Hamlin.
“It was hard racing at the end,” Jones exclaimed to MRN Radio. “This package, the late restarts make for an exciting finish and today was no exception. I wish we could have gotten up there to challenge Denny (Hamlin). Martin (Truex) gave us a good push on the restart. The bottom doesn’t have what the top has on a restart. So we did all we could.”
“We overcame a lot in this Reser’s Camry. We were pretty far off at the start of the race and we got way better. Had a chance to win and had things worked out a little better, things would have been a bit different. Can’t ask for a lot more for doing burnouts, but we’re getting close every week. It’s going to turn our way one of these times.”
With the second-place finish, Jones earned his seventh top five of the season.
Despite finishing third after having a shot at the win and not leading any laps, Truex was fairly happy with the outcome.
“It was a good day overall for our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Camry,” Truex told MRN Radio in his post-race interview. “We were trying to save fuel there on that long run. We ran second to the 20 (Jones) and thought we were in better shape than him on fuel, he started to save more, and I did as well.”
“I started thinking, man. I probably should try to pass him here and we got into lap traffic, then the 11 (Hamlin) got by me. Then I got by the 20 and it’s like the 11 had control of the race after that. When the caution came out, he got to lead the restart and I got on the bottom. You just can’t do anything on the front row on the bottom. We got in a sucker hole there and were lucky to come back third.”
Truex qualified his No. 19 machine eighth in Saturday’s qualifying session. And while he did not lead any laps, the New Jersey native finished fifth and fourth in both stages, respectively. Truex was only able to run as high as second in the race before earning his eighth top-five of the season.
The No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team sits second in the playoff points standings with four wins.