Erik Jones is in his second season driving the No. 43 (Photo: Petty GMS Racing)
Erik Jones admits that he and his No. 43 Petty GMS Motorsports team “should be thrilled.”
At the midpoint of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, Jones and company are in a far 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 fives and six top 10s. first in 36-point races.
Things are looking up for Richard Petty’s team.
“Your expectations change very quickly in racing,” Jones told SPEED SPORT a few days after finishing a disappointing 22nd at Sonoma. “You race better and your expectations go up, and suddenly the top 10 is more frustrating than it was last year.
“A top 10 for us was like winning. We run in the top 10 and that was cause for celebration. This season, I don’t think he feels the same way. We came up in the top 10 and that’s what we feel like we’re 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 the points, obviously we’re a big jump from now.
“Sometimes it’s hard to look at that from a big 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 up to the Cup Series. Now Petty GMS is a two-car operation, with Jones having a teammate in Ty Dillon and the No. 42 Chevrolet.
The tools at the team’s disposal have “changed a lot” with the expansion.
“Obviously we 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 much more in the simulator, which I think has been a big help for us just trying to develop the car to get better with the Chevy side.”
Of course, there is the added benefit of having another team and another driver to bounce information off of.
“Having someone to lean on and come out of a setup and say, ‘Hey, we’re running this, this is better, this is worse,’ I think that helps overall as a group,” Jones said. “Especially at the Cup level. More cars is more people, more power to figure out what is good and what is bad and how to improve things 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 came within sight of the checkered flag when he was passed down the front straight, a result of being too far ahead of the pack to take a charge.
After finishing seventh at Worldwide Technology Raceway earlier this month, where does Jones anticipate being a threat in the near future?
“I think Nashville coming in will be really good for us, really any oval right now is good for us,” said Jones, who was 19th at the Nashville Superspeedway in 2021. “As a place, it’s pretty unique and pretty different. But I feel good about it. I feel like our cars can do well there, some of the things we’ve done will bode well.”
Then there’s Michigan International Speedway, Jones’ home track. As a sister track to the Auto Club Speedway, Jones and the No. 43 team should have the 2-mile loop race circled on August 7, right? Will they take the same car that almost won at Fontana to 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 bit weird how you swap the clips in and out, the cars are weird now, but we’ll definitely have a very similar package. We can duplicate that pretty well. I’m excited. I always want to run well at Michigan. I feel like I let one slip away there my rookie year (2017), we were running second at the restart and I felt like I was in a good spot to maybe get the win and it didn’t work out.
“So I haven’t been in that place since, but I always want to race well there and compete and definitely feel like we can duplicate what we had at Auto Club.”