Erik Jones didn't seem like a big factor heading into the 2021 NASCAR season, and that sentiment didn't really change in the first couple of weeks. Between wrecking out of the Daytona 500 and finishing 14th at the track's road course event the following week, there wasn't much to write home about for the Michigan native who had joined Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) after being let go by the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) powerhouse.
All that changed at Bristol, however, as Erik Jones managed to finish ninth at the half-mile track. Not only was it his best finish of the season so far, bettering his 10th place result from Las Vegas, it also showed that the team is finally beginning to hit its stride.
"It was a good day for our No. 43 Tide Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE at the Bristol Motor Speedway. We started a little bit further back in the lineup and worked our way towards the top 10." Erik Jones said during the post-race press conference. "Our Richard Petty Motorsports team ended up getting some good stage points throughout the day and coming home in ninth place. It was a solid day. What we were looking for today was to get back towards the top 10, and I think our Chevrolet Camaro was probably a little bit better than that even. We just kind of ran out of laps and ran out of time, given the way the race was sectioned out."
Erik Jones has a point to prove
The finish moved Erik Jones from 25th in the points standings to 22nd. Whether the upward climb continues or not remains to be seen, but his pace at Bristol showed that better days are ahead for RPM.
The team had been making healthy progress with Bubba Wallace Jr. until last year and that trend looks set to continue with the addition of Erik Jones. The 24-year-old has a point to prove after being cut loose from JGR and It might not be the first time we see a driver's motivation lift a team up.