NASCAR Cup Series: 5 possible playoff bid stealers

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, NASCAR (Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports)
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, NASCAR (Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Erik Jones, NASCAR
Erik Jones, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR (Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports) /

NASCAR playoff bid stealers: No. 4 – Erik Jones

Heading into the 2023 season, Legacy Motor Club’s Erik Jones was viewed as a driver who had a solid chance of making the playoffs.

Last season, he narrowly missed out on a playoff appearance, despite finishing the regular season in the top 16 in the point standings, but he did manage to score a win at Darlington Raceway in the playoff opener, his first win since 2019.

His second season in the No. 43 Chevrolet last year marked a significant improvement over his first year with the team in 2021. After a 2021 season in which he failed to score a single top five finish en route to 24th place points finish, he finished the 2022 season with one win, three top five finishes, and 13 top 10 finishes, a massive all-around improvement for the Michigan native.

The 2023 season, however, has been far from what was expected of Jones coming into the season. He currently sits 30th place in the standings with three top 10 finishes, and he has yet to finish in the top five. On top of this, his No. 43 team was recently handed a 60-point penalty by NASCAR.

Luckily for Jones, this decline is less of a driver-related issue and much more of a team-related problem. Legacy Motor Club as a whole have struggled in 2023, with Jones’ full-time teammate, Noah Gragson, sitting in 32nd place in the standings without a top 10 finish. Additionally, part-time driver and co-owner Jimmie Johnson has failed to finish in all three of his starts so far this year.

While Jones and the rest of the team should see improvement in 2024 after they switch to Toyota, there is still work to be done in the second half of the 2023 season.

Throughout his career, Erik Jones has been among the top superspeedway racers in the Cup Series, and with both Atlanta and Daytona coming up on the regular season schedule, he still has a shot to make the playoffs, even in a down year.

Jones has won at Daytona in the past, and much like LaJoie, he has also had solid speed at Atlanta since the track’s 2022 repave. While his 2023 season has been far from ideal, the door is still very much open for him to grab a win before the playoffs and potentially carry some momentum into the 2024 season.