By: Ashley McCubbin
In past seasons of NASCAR Cup Series competition, two or three drivers have emerged as the favorites to win the championship. Thus far in 2021, though, it seems the field is wide open with five different winners in five races.
While the diversity has surprised some viewers, that’s not the case for Erik jones.
“I don’t think it really surprises me too much,” he told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “I think the guys that have won are all guys that are totally capable of winning on a certain weekend. With no practice, it’s less surprising because it’s a matter of really hitting your car right when you unload and hit the race track. When you have practice, you always kind of see the cream rise. It’s the same guys that know how to get their stuff really good; especially at the tracks that they’re good at. And without practice, you lose that.
“So, you’re just totally relying on hitting it right. It’s a little bit of the flip of the coin, right? You hope that it lands on the good side and it’s handling good for you. It doesn’t really surprise me, but it doesn’t really change my approach to the Playoffs either. Obviously, it’s going to be a little bit harder to point your way in, the more and more winners we get. But we’ve still got to do the best we can each week and just try to continue clicking points off and moving up and taking advantage of the places that we can go and have a shot to win and hopefully win one.”
In past seasons, nine or 10 spots have been taken by race winners, with the standings setting the final five or six remaining places. However, if the diversity continues. everyone holding a victory is possible – and points may come back into the equation should 17 drivers hoist a checkered flag.
“I’ve thought about it, for sure,” Jones admits. “I think everybody has already after all the different winners we’ve had so far. That just makes it more important to make sure you’re getting as many points as you can each week and moving up. If we do get in that situation that you’ve got enough points over the next guy that’s got a win, to hopefully beat him into the Playoffs. So, it just makes points even more of a focus, I guess.
“It’s funny. This system is supposed to be winning and getting in but, we’re in a situation where we could realistically have more than 16 winners.”
Jones will get his next opportunity to stand in victory lane this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he has scored a track-best seventh in four appearances.
“Atlanta is kind of a unique place, but we’ve always run pretty decent there in the past,” he said. “It’s just really worn out. You really have to have your car working good on the bottom to be able to really hook the yellow line and make it work down there. I think overall, Atlanta is abrasive, and it’s worn out. It gets a little slicker every year. You just have to really focus on making your car good on the long runs.
“It’s tough. It’s not easy to get your car driving good there. I feel like the balance is a little bit more finicky with this package now than what it was in the past with the lower downforce package. So, you really have to hit it right and make sure your car is working good. When you have to start getting up and running the top, I feel like that’s kind of a Band-Aid and it’s not really where you want your car to be running. So, if you can get it running good on the bottom and hooking the line well, you’re going to have a pretty good day.”