It has been a wild ride for Erik Jones and his NASCAR career. Following his long tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing where he won two Cup races, it was time for the Michigan native to make a change. He landed at Richard Petty Motorsports, driving the famed No. 43 Chevrolet.

The 2021 campaign did not go well for Jones or the team, earning just six top-ten results with a best finish of 7th on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He led a grand total of just nine laps last season, but there was a sense of optimism around the organization heading into this year.

In December Maury Gallagher, owner of GMS Racing and majority owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, announced the creation of Petty GMS Motorsports, which would expand to field two full-time entries this season, with Jones and Ty Dillon. The team has performed very well through the first ten races this season, which nearly resulted in their first win last weekend at Talladega.

After leading 25 laps on Sunday, Jones remained in the lead as he took the white flag. He was in position to block as the field approached the finish line, but simply made the wrong move by moving up the track to block Kyle Larson. The move not only cost him the race win, but he slipped back to 6th place. Hindsight is 20/20 but Jones knows where it all went south.

"I probably would have just stayed on the bottom," Jones said. "I didn’t realize the bottom was coming with that much momentum. My spotter (Rick Carelli) was probably telling me, but I was just in my own world. You’re trying to react to what you can see and also trying to listen to him."

"I tried to defend and it kind of opened the door for Chastain. He cruised by everybody and ended up winning the race. You only get so much of a picture in the car, in the seat, and I was trying to do what I thought I needed to do to win the race and, unfortunately, there were other circumstances, which is Talladega."

Jones is no stranger to superspeedway racing, having won the 2018 July race at Daytona. Drivers are still trying to learn how the NextGen car performs on these types of tracks though. Still, Jones couldn't help but think about how it could have played out differently had he simply stayed in place.

"Obviously, if I would have known the bottom had that much steam, I would have stuck with it and hoped Chastain has to push me. It’s frustrating. You work that hard for 500 miles and it comes down to the last few thousand feet. It’s tough. It’s a good shot for us to win. I feel like we can win at other places, but this was definitely a day I feel like we could have won."

Jones led laps and was strong at Daytona to open the season, but was caught up in a crash just nine laps from the finish. He rebounded nicely with a 3rd place finish at Fontana, where he qualified on the front row. He had another solid run at Circuit of the Americas but his best opportunity to find victory lane came last weekend. Still, he is focused on what is in front of him.

"Would really love to get the No. 43 in victory lane. I thought that might be the day. All day long we were fast and had speed, especially being up front there at the end. I’m definitely more content than I’ve been in a few years with where we are. I’m excited to see where it goes. A lot of season left, but I’m happy with where we’re going."

"I look at the points and where we’re at, and I think we have a good shot at making the playoffs if we can have a good clean run and get some good races in here. We want to win races. That’s my goal. Maury’s goal. Richard's goal. Everybody's goal. We’re building to get to that point."

In his return to Cup competition, Dillon has shown well with an 11th place finish in the Daytona 500 and a top-ten result two weeks ago at Bristol. The second car has definitely helped this team progress, and Dillon is proving to be a notable addition to the field.

It’s not difficult to figure out the motivation that is fueling Jones this year. “2019 was a great season for us, but as soon as the playoffs started, it just collapsed, and we went downhill and fell out in the first round. I just want to have an opportunity to get back in it and try to advance and have a shot.”

At the end of the day, Talladega was a good result for Jones and the team. It gives them something to build on heading into today’s race at Dover, where he believes they can win.

"We needed a good finish to get some points. In that sense, it’s good. In the other sense, it’s frustrating. You try to look at the positives. We did have a fast car, led laps, and were in the lead coming to where we needed to be. It just makes you want to work harder."