Erik Jones seeks to boost NASCAR playoff position, shore up contract with Joe Gibbs Racing

Erik Jones expects to go to his home state of Michigan next week with a much better feeling when he sees friends and family.

It’s not that they judge him and his ability, but when he went there amid a slump in early June, he sat perilously close to the provisional playoff cutoff and in an overall funk.

“It was kind of a somber welcome home last time,” Jones said. “We weren’t running right and just had a lot of issues. We hadn’t run well in the last month.”

His friends didn’t shy away from asking him about why he couldn’t seem to find a rhythm while his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates had rattled off wins.

“My close friends, they’ll ask me what’s the deal, what’s wrong and what’s going to get fixed,” Jones said. “I kept them updated a little bit.

“Sometimes I ignore them because I don’t obviously want to talk about it.”

Following a run of three consecutive top-three finishes, Erik Jones can breathe a little easier about his playoff position. (Photo: Jasen Vinlove, USA TODAY Sports)

The talk for Jones will sway more positive this time as long as all goes decent this weekend on the road course at Watkins Glen International (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET).

In early June, Jones went to Michigan International Speedway one point to the good of the playoff bubble and left seven points outside after a 31st-place finish. He fell as low as 15 points outside the top-16 following the June 30 Chicagoland Speedway race, despite a top-10 result. But finishes of third, third and second in the last three races have put him 39 points above the playoff cut line — the best he has been all season. He has posted top-three finishes in five of his last 10 races.

And yet some of the questions will continue unless Joe Gibbs Racing and Jones can put ink to a contract extension.

Jones has felt the talks the last three months have progressed well, but with Christopher Bell’s five-win performance this year for JGR on the Xfinity side showing his incredible promise for a Cup ride, nothing will feel good for Jones fans until an announcement. Bell has signed with JGR for the 2020 season, but at what level remains up in the air.

Stanley Black & Decker, the majority sponsor on the Jones and the JGR No. 20 car, must sign for next season.

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“It's so hard putting everything together,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “I know people get frustrated because you haven't made a decision yet on some things. But I just say this: There's sponsors involved, so many relationships involved, you're trying to get through all that and work it all out.

“I think honestly that's part of Erik's world. It doesn't go easy sometimes. He knows. I keep him updated. He knows we're working as hard as we can. Hopefully it will be one of those things will get put in place here pretty quick.”

Gibbs, who knows how to say something without totally tipping his hand, indicated that he feels the team, led by crew chief Chris Gayle, is on the verge of a breakthrough.

“The last three weeks I think show kind of where the team is,” Gibbs said. “Chris Gayle over there has done a great job. I think Erik can sense it. … We’re all excited about Erik and his future, doing everything we can to kind of get everything in place to make sure we have him taken care of.”

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