NASCAR: Is crew chief Chris Gayle holding Erik Jones back?

Erik Jones and Joe Gibbs, NASCAR (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Erik Jones and Joe Gibbs, NASCAR (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images) /

Erik Jones sits in 19th place in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff grid, 24 points out. Is crew chief Chris Gayle holding him back?

After finishing in sixth place at Texas Motor Speedway, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones sits in 19th place in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture. He is currently 24 points behind Jimmie Johnson, who holds the 16th and final spot.

What did not help Jones was the fact that Austin Dillon won the race. Every time there is a new winner, that leaves one less spot for a driver to get into the playoffs based on points.

With only eight races left in the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, Jones either needs to get a win or get into not just the top 16 in points but the top 15 due to Cole Custer’s upset win two weekends ago. There are just six playoff spots left up for grabs.

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It was a call to take two tires on the final pit stop that got Austin Dillon out ahead of the field and aided him to the win at Texas Motor Speedway on a day when tire wear did not prove to be key. So why didn’t crew chief Chris Gayle make that call to get Jones that track position?

Instead of taking two tires, or even none like Dillon’s teammate Tyler Reddick, Jones took four tires and restarted the race in 10th place with 22 laps to go. Jones was able to make a few passes en route to a sixth place finish, but those kind of runs may not be enough to make the playoffs this year.

Gayle has been paired with Erik Jones since he came into the Cup Series in 2017 at Furniture Row Racing. Since then, Jones has scored two victories, the first at Daytona International Speedway in 2018 and the second at Darlington Raceway in 2019. With the talent he has, he may just need a new crew chief.

Look at what happened with teamnate Denny Hamlin. In 2018, he had one of his worst seasons, as he went winless and was eliminated in the round of 16 of the playoffs. Crew chief Mike Wheeler was moved to Leavine Family Racing and Chris Gabehart was brought in as the new crew chief of the #11 team. Since then, Hamlin has scored won a series-high 10 races, earned back-to-back Daytona 500 victories and earned a Championship 4 appearance.

Gayle and Jones simply may not have the connection they need to go out and score multiple race wins in a season. Jones may need a new crew chief soon to see if that can jump-start his career. Joe Gibbs Racing did it with Hamlin, and it may be time to try it with Jones, who is in a contract year as the driver of the #20 Toyota.

Toyota have said that they would like to keep Jones for a long time, and there have been talks between Jones and Joe Gibbs Racing about a new contract extension.

A crew chief change for Jones would most likely be the last thing Joe Gibbs Racing could do to see if it will help him win more races and contend for championships. If that does not solve the problem, then Christopher Bell may be called upon to drive the #20 Toyota.

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Gayle will either need to make some aggressive calls or bring some blazing fast cars for Jones to drive, or he may not be his crew chief for too much longer.