By Cole Cusumano
Coming down the frontstretch to the checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway, it appeared that Erik Jones could be the one to take down Ryan Blaney. That is until the Team Penske driver shoved the No. 20 into the outside wall en route to a dominant victory.
It may not have been pretty, but the 24-year-old was able to walk away from Alabama with a top-five finish — something that could be of vital importance as the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway.
With five top-10 finishes in six starts, ‘The Tricky Triangle’ may be Jones’ best track on the circuit. After placing third in the first event last year, the 2.5-mile track served as a springboard for one of his most competitive stretches of 2019. In the six weeks that followed, the Toyota Racing driver placed inside the top-10 four times, including a pair of back-to-back third-place results before a runner-up in the final Pocono race.
Jones enters this weekend in a unique situation, as Pocono will be hosting the first doubleheader in NASCAR history. With momentum on his side and an outstanding track record at the Pennsylvania raceway, the 24-year-old now has two shots to cash in his first points victory of 2020.
“A doubleheader is going to be pretty cool,” Jones said. “It’s an opportunity to score a lot of points, which we need some points right now. Hopefully, we can go in there and run really well. It sure is a cool opportunity to win two races, because that is obviously the ultimate goal. Good momentum, we needed a solid run.”
Although able to keep his composure, this inaugural event (or events) had to be circled on Jones’ calendar since the schedule was released. For starters, Joe Gibbs Racing has found victory lane four of the last five times at Pocono.
This is also a great opportunity for Jones to capitalize on two things; points and Kyle Busch’s struggles.
Halfway through the regular season, Jones’ only victory this season came in the Busch Clash from Daytona International Speedway — an exhibition event. Not only is this an optimum situation in which he can potentially pick up two wins, it’s also a likely scenario that he can secure some much needed stage points. Jones currently sits 17th in the standings, one spot out of the Playoffs.
Busch — who sits ninth in the standing, but isn’t locked into a postseason spot; has been pegged as the favorite to win the pair of events at Pocono, but his difficulties have been well documented all season. It seems like it’s been one step forward and two steps back for the driver of the No. 18. He’s shown glimmers of breaking through and even finished runner-up in three races this year — but he’s been plagued by pit misfortunes, incidents that weren’t his doing and just lack a speed some weeks.
It could be a statement weekend for the driver of the No. 20 if he can punch his ticket into the Playoffs before Busch. Jones is very much racing for his livelihood this season and with an absurdly talented free agent pool at the conclusion of the 2020 season, anything is possible.
The inaugural doubleheader from Pocono Raceway begins June 27th at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX. The final event of the weekend takes place the following day at 4 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.