Erik Jones admits he and and his No. 43 Petty GMS Motorsports team “should be thrilled.”
At the halfway point in the 2022 NASCAR Cup season, Jones and Co. are far and away in a 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 in all 36 points races.
Things are looking up for Richard Petty’s team.
“Your expectations change so fast in racing,” Jones told SPEED SPORT a few days after he finished a disappointing 22nd at Sonoma. “You run better and your expectations rise, and all of a sudden, you know, top 10s are more frustrating than they were last year.
“A top 10 for us was like winning. We run on top 10 and that was a celebratory matter. This season, I don’t think it feels that same way. We get up in the top 10 and that’s kind of what we feel like we’re capable of and what we can do each week. So it changes every year. I think last year at this point, we were like 25th in points, we’re obviously a pretty big leap up from that right now.
“It’s hard sometimes to take a look at that from a big view.”
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 jump 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 has “changed a lot” with the expansion.
“We obviously have a lot more manpower, engineering power, just people in there working day in and day out on the cars to get better,” Jones said. “We’re on the simulator a lot more, which I think has been a big help for us just trying to develop the car to get a better with the Chevy side.”
Of course there’s the added benefit of having another team and driver to bounce info off of.
“Having somebody to base on and go off of a setup and say, ‘Hey, we’re we’re running this, this is better, this is worse’ I think that just helps overall as a group,” Jones said. “Especially at the Cup level. More cars is more people, more power to figure out what’s good and what’s bad and how to make things better quicker.”
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 was within sight of the checkered flag when he was passed on the frontstretch, a result of being too far ahead of the field to hold of 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 up is gonna be really good for us, really any deal ovals right now are good for us,” said Jones, who placed 19th at Nashville Superpeedway in 2021. “As a place it’s pretty unique and pretty different. But I feel good about it. I feel like our cars can run well there, some of the stuff we’ve done is going to bode well.”
Then there’s Michigan International Speedway, Jones’ home track. As a sister track to Auto Club Speedway, Jones and the No. 43 team must have the 2-mile speedway’s race on Aug. 7 circled, right? Will they be taking the same car that almost won in Fontana to Michigan?
“We’ll definitely take a very similar package, I don’t know that it’ll be the exact same car,” Jones said. “Now it’s kind of weird how you swap clips in and out, cars are just 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 in Michigan. I feel like I kind of let one slip away there my rookie year (2017), we were running second on restart and I was feeling like I was in a good spot to maybe grab the win and it didn’t work out.
“So I haven’t been in that spot since, but always want to run well there and contend and definitely feel like we can duplicate what we had at Auto Club.”