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Erik Jones
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Chasing the Cup

10. Erik Jones

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: January 17, 2020, 1:22 pm ET

In his fourth full season, it is time for Erik Jones to prove his worth to fantasy players.

Jones entered the Cup series with a lot of anticipation. For the most part, he lived up to that with 14 top-10s in his rookie season. The best of these was a runner-up finish to his mentor Kyle Busch in Bristol 2. Jones led the most laps that day (260) and was leading late in the going before he was passed by Busch on Lap 445.

Jones already had a couple of third-place finishes to his credit in 2017. He finished that well at Pocono and Michigan and with his solid Bristol run, it seemed victory was imminent. But while Jones continued to come close, victory eluded him until halfway through his sophomore season when he drew the winning number in the aero-restricted lottery at Daytona race in the summer contest.

Plate wins are not predictive of future success.

It took another year before Jones found Victory Lane again. This time it came in one of the toughest races of the season, in Week 25 at Darlington. That Southern 500 win is a big part of the reason why Jones is so highly valued this season. While he was in the lead, he showed poise and strength – pacing the field for 38 laps at one point and driving away in the final 41 laps of the Crown Jewel.

Coupled with his near-win at Bristol, Jones has proven himself capable of handling rough surface tracks that take a lot out of the driver.

Jones can drive, but he needs discipline and the team has to stop making mistakes.

Last year Jones scored 10 top-10s. They came on every track type NASCAR visits. His Darlington win is supplemented by a second at Pocono and several third-place finishes – including one in the season finale on the true oval of Homestead.

Jones can be successful anywhere. Of the 23 tracks NASCAR currently visits, he already has top-fives on 14. He has been most prolific at Pocono with four top-fives. Jones has three at Texas and two each at Darlington, Daytona, Watkins Glen, and Kansas. He has single top-fives at Michigan, Phoenix, Indy, Dover, Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Homestead.

In 2019, Jones was an all or nothing driver. He finished in the top five on 10 occasions and narrowly missed with sixth- or seventh-place finishes another five times. But he was also prone to error – either his own or the team’s.

Last year Jones finished outside of the top 25 almost as many times as he was in the top five.

Five of his nine sub-25th-place results came after accidents. He finished 23rd with damage on one other occasions. Jones was also disqualified for failing inspection at Richmond 2 and that penalty was particularly harmful because he was still in playoff contention at the time. Jones crossed under the checkered flag in fourth after earning the fifth-best Driver Rating for the race,

Finishing position is what ultimately counts, but in order to get an accurate view of a driver’s strength other factors have to be considered. One of the factors we watch throughout the season is NASCAR Statistical Services’ Driver Rating. While Jones’ finished outside the top 25 nine times, his DR was that bad only four times – and two of these came because of early retirements: a Lap 22 accident in the Coke 600 and a Lap 23 accident on the Charlotte Roval.

Jones will face pressure in 2020. He is competing with Rookie of the Year candidate Christopher Bell for the fourth and final slot at Joe Gibbs Racing and with previous departures of Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez, he knows exactly what a lack of performance will mean.

It remains to be seen if the pressure will galvanize or cripple him. With a top-10 handicap, we are betting on the former.

Three Best Tracks
Darlington (4.7 in 3 attempts)
Kentucky (5.3 in 3)
Watkins Glen (6.3 in 3)

Three Worst Tracks
Charlotte Roval (35.0 in 2)
Talladega (28.2 in 6)
Indy (24.0 in 3)

2019 Stats
Victories: Southern 500
Top-fives: 10 (.278)
Top-10s: 17 (.472)
Top-15s: 20 (.556)

2019 Finishes at or above rank = 22 (47.2%)

Recent articles featuring Erik Jones:
Buttering the bread: 1.5-mile success
Streaking in 2019
Erik Jones vs. Christopher Bell
The Oddities: Pocono and Indy
Power Rankings 11-20

2019 Profile

2020 Driver Profiles:
11. Clint Bowyer
12. Alex Bowman
13. William Byron
14. Aric Almirola
15. Kurt Busch
16. Christopher Bell
17. Ryan Newman
18. Matt DiBenedetto
19. Jimmie Johnson
20. Tyler Reddick
21. Chris Buescher
22. Cole Custer
23. Austin Dillon
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
25. Ryan Preece
26. Ty Dillon
27. Bubba Wallace
28. Michael McDowell
29. Ross Chastain
30. Daniel Suarez

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.