Erik Jones and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team showed some muscle in their first race together — Tuesday night’s NASCAR Cup Series Busch Clash at the Daytona International Speedway road course.
Sure, when you look at the simple box score you’ll see Jones started ninth and finished eighth, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Jones, 24, dropped outside the top-10 in the running order initially when the 35-lap exhibition event got underway. While many opted to fire it in there on the opening lap of the race and chance destroying their cars to gain positions on the initial start, Jones was simply biding his time.
Even NASCAR Cup Series champions like Kevin Harvick, who spun twice in the opening 15 laps, were having a hard time keeping their composure in the wild road course event.
Just before the scheduled lap 15 competition caution, Jones had worked his way past several drivers and was running solidly inside the top-five. After pitting just before the competition caution and then again hitting pit road during the competition yellow (for two tires and a top-off on fuel), Jones found himself battling for a top-10 spot once again.
The Michigan-native would continue to keep his cool
Jones would get to seventh when the handle would start to fade on the No. 43 machine. With eight laps to go, Jones radioed to his team that the car was, “Low on grip everywhere.”
However, a caution for Martin Truex Jr. spinning into the wall while leading, provided an opportunity for Jones and the team to get fresh tires on the car and address the ill-handling condition.
4 tires and fuel under caution for @Erik_Jones, that pesky left front wheel didn’t seem to want to cooperate 😬
Getting ready to take the green with 5 to go at @daytona!
— Richard Petty Motorsports (@RPMotorsports) February 10, 2021
This pit stop would drop Jones just outside of the top-10, but with improved tires and handling, he immediately began to charge back up the scoring pylon. Over the last handful of laps Jones would climb to eighth position. The blue RP Funding car would hold steady for the solid finish.
For Jones and the No. 43 team, they checked a lot of the boxes in their first race together. This event was the first building block for their 2021 season.
“I thought the Busch Clash at Daytona was a good start for our Richard Petty Motorsports team,” Jones said. “It was our first night, everyone was working together and getting on track. No practice makes things a little bit tougher, but I learned a lot from my end. I think we have some good feedback to go forward — we’re coming back to race this track again and tonight’s feedback will make it a little bit better. Our entire team got in their groove and, you know, we will be able to get a couple more races under our belt here before the weekend’s over.”
While it was a good start, Jones knows there is still room for improvement going forward.
“We will keep working at it and keep having good feedback. But we’ll take a top-10 to start our year,” Jones said.
Now that the first race with his new team is out of the way, the focus for Jones shifts to the Daytona 500, which despite being technically at the same track as Tuesday’s Busch Clash, is a totally different beast. Jones will look to showcase the drafting abilities that saw him capture his first-career NASCAR Cup Series win back in 2018.
However, regardless how the rest of the week goes, Jones and the No. 43 team showed that they are on the same page right out of the box, which is the best thing they could have hoped for coming out of Tuesday night’s exhibition event.