Jones feels back to normal but admits 43 team stuck in a rut

Erik Jones describes his health as “pretty much 100%” two months after suffering a compression fracture of a lower vertebra in his back at Talladega Superspeedway.

“I feel good,” Jones said at Iowa Speedway. “There’s still some occasional pain here and there, but it’s nothing a lot different than what I had before with racing. So, I feel good and am doing normal stuff.

“I ran a late model again (before Iowa). Everything has been feeling pretty good.”

Jones was injured during a frontal impact in Turn 3 when his Legacy Motor Club Toyota Camry was hit from behind in a bump draft accordion gone wrong. The seven-car Toyota teammate draft with 33 laps to go was set to leapfrog the field on strategy before the incident.


The injury sidelined Jones for two NASCAR Cup Series races (Dover and Kansas). He returned with a 19th-place finish at Darlington Raceway.

But whereas Jones feels normal, it has been anything but for the No. 43 team in recent weeks. Over the last five weeks, Jones has finished no better than 19th (three times) and has fallen to 26th in the championship standings.

“We’re not where we want to be,” Jones said.

It was an unfortunate twist of fate. The day before Jones was injured, he spoke optimistically about the team’s outlook and hunting for a postseason spot. At the time — the end of the season’s first quarter — Jones was 19th in the championship standings with four top-15 finishes.

“It’s kind of crazy (that) we went to Talladega and felt pretty good and felt like we were getting better, and Talladega was going to be a good finish for us,” Jones said. “Then, after that, I came back and it feels like nothing has been good since. Fortunately — or unfortunately — that’s shared across the board. The 42 [John Hunter Nemechek] has been struggling as well since then.

“It’s hard when you sit out a couple of weeks and you don’t know the direction things are going and you come back, and it’s different. We have to get better, in general, but we have to unload better. That’s been our big struggle.”

The team was “way off” to start at Sonoma Raceway and Jones qualified 38th. A snowball effect occurs where it then takes nearly the entire race to make up ground and get the car better.

The same happened at Iowa Speedway, where Jones qualified 32nd. And as he anticipated, it was a tough race on a new racetrack and with a tire that gave many teams fits. Jones was one of the drivers with a right-front failure, finishing 32nd.

“We’ve been able to salvage some decent finishes, but it’s not because we’ve had good speed,” Jones said. “We’ve had good strategy; the races have played out; and we stayed out of wrecks.

“We just need to get the speed back, and that’s bringing better cars to unload.”

Jones is 159 points below the playoff grid cutline with nine races left in the regular season. Daytona and Darlington are the final two races of the regular season, and both are tracks where Jones has previously been victorious.

Story originally appeared on Racer