Erik Jones experiences first big frustration in NASCAR Cup Series

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A Sunday of frustration for Erik Jones and the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry team resulted in a 22nd-place finish in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

An ill-handling and seemingly unfixable race car, trouble on pit road, tire issues and even a plastic bag stuck to the grille kept the Furniture Row Racing team from the solid result they’d hoped for coming into the seventh race of the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series season.

“There’s really nothing we can take as a positive from this race that we can apply for the next time we’re here other than the need to get better,” said Jones. “We tried everything we could to make the 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry to handle better but nothing worked. It was just a very frustrating day for the entire Furniture Row Racing team.”

Jones started the 334-lap race from outside of Row 18 after crashing his primary car in practice and not making a qualifying attempt in his backup car on Friday. The car’s handling was “a handful,” according to Jones, from the beginning though he had moved to 17th by the time NASCAR called for a competition caution after Lap 30. Jones came down pit road for service two laps later. Unfortunately, the car he was following nearly stopped in the middle of pit lane for seemingly no reason and the ensuing contact caused damage to the hood and a hole in the grille of the Furniture Row Racing entry.

Multiple stops under caution provided the opportunity for the pit crew to repair the damage but crew chief Chris Gayle could find no way to adjust the car’s handling to Jones’ liking. The Byron, Mich., native finished 20th in the first stage after Lap 85.

Gayle called for right-side tires only during the ensuing stop which moved the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry to fourth for the restart on Lap 93. The strategic move helped initially but soon Jones was unable to maintain his track position. A plastic bag stuck on the grille on lap 150 but fell off seven laps later. He finished the second stage, after lap 170, again in the 20th position.

A tire beginning to come apart was found after the green-flag stop on Lap 222. Jones did his best to move up in the running order but was able only to pick up two positions and maintain his position from there until the checkered flag waved.

Jones fell one spot, to 14th, in the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series point standings. He is four back of Ryan Newman in 13th and 39 behind Kevin Harvick in 10th.

“It was a frustrating race that forced Erik to have his hands full all day,” said Gayle. “It was one of those days that you hope doesn’t happen very often, or really at all, where you just don’t know what’s wrong with the car, the speed is just off and not consistent enough to race hard. We just struggled. It could have be a little bit of nose damage or something, but we totally missed it.”

Jimmie Johnson won the race. Rounding out the top-10 in order were: Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Truex, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch.

There were 16 lead changes among six drivers and eight cautions for 35 laps.

After the Eastern break, the next NASCAR Cup Series race is Sunday, April 23 at the high-banked Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

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