If you ask Erik Jones to grade the first six races of his rookie year, his assessment is striking.
“I’d say a C,” Jones told Yahoo Sports Wednesday in an appearance in Kansas City. “C is pretty average, which is what we’ve been so far.”
Wait, what? A C? Jones is 13th in the points standings and has five top-15 finishes. How is that average?
“A guess a C+,” he said when pressed incredulously about his initial grade. “C-plus, we’ll go with that. It’s been good, we’ve been really consistent. We’ve had consistent runs but we want to get the finishes better which is why I would say our grade isn’t higher.”
It’s not new that drivers have incredibly high standards for themselves. And it’s unsurprising that a driver like Jones — who has 13 wins in 103 Xfinity and Truck Series races — would set such a high bar and consider a successful rookie season one with a win and a playoff appearance.
But despite the absence of an early win we’d be comfortable giving the 20-year-old Jones at least a B so far.
Jones’ standing in the points through the first six races of his first full season is higher than Chase Elliott (16th in 2016), Kyle Larson (19th in 2014) and Ryan Blaney (15th in 2016), three of the drivers considered to be some of the most prominent drivers in the Cup Series over the next 15 years. Jones is in that group too, and if it wasn’t for the success of Larson and Elliott this season — both are in the top three in points — the start to his season would have a bigger spotlight on it.
It’d be a better start without a speeding penalty at California two weeks ago too. It came on the final full pit stop sequence of the race and a probable top-five finish disappeared when Jones had to restart at the back of the field with less than 10 laps to go.
“That’s definitely the big one for me this year where it’s like ‘Man, that really sucked,'” Jones said.
He finished 12th.
While Elliott and Larson entered with established teams their rookie season and Blaney was with a team making the jump from part-time to full-time, Jones’ team is completely new. With the Joe Gibbs Racing inn full during the 2016 season, Furniture Row Racing added a second team for Jones in 2017, expanding the number of factory-backed Toyota teams from five to six.
Jones’ FRR teammate Martin Truex Jr. dominated last spring’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, leading 141 laps before a late pit call meant he slid back to sixth. While normally a teammate’s notes in a scenario like that would be helpful, they are of no use to either Jones or Truex. Texas, the site of Sunday’s Cup Series race, has been repaved and reconfigured. In addition to the new pavement on the entire track, turns 1 and 2 are flatter and different from 3 and 4.
For Jones, the redo may be a good thing.
“I think this weekend is a huge advantage for me,” Jones said. “It gives me an opportunity to go against these guys on a more level playing field than normal. We go to all these racetracks we’ve been to, they’ve all been there a hundred times more than I have and know how these cars drive around there and know what they want out of their car. And I spend a lot of the weekend trying to figure that stuff out.”
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