Erik Jones’ first top five of the season is a sure sign of progress

FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 08: Erik Jones, driver of the #20 Reser's Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 8, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

FORT WORTH, Texas – A fourth-place finish for Erik Jones in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway didn’t have the impact of a breakthrough victory, but it marked substantial progress nevertheless for the second-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver.

Jones led twice for a total of 64 laps and posted his best finish since joining Joe Gibbs racing at the start of the season. More than anything, Sunday’s result gave him a jolt of confidence.

“We’ve been kind of inching there each week, getting closer and closer,” Jones said. Martinsville (where he finished 17th two weeks ago) is kind of its own animal, but each week at the 1.5-mile and two-miles, we’ve been getting better. To get the Reser’s Camry up front and just in the top five is a big moment for us.

“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do here with this group, and we did a good job of it this weekend. Texas is a place I like. I’ve got to say thanks to the pit crew. They worked really hard. We’ve had a rough start to the year on pit road, but they knocked them out. We picked up a lot of spots on pit road today, and that was huge for us. Just a good day overall and a lot to build on for Bristol.”

In fact, Jones gained three spots each on two consecutive pit stops, the second of which handed him the lead for a restart on Lap 178.

That Jones would excel at Texas, however, is no surprise. In 2015, as a 19-year-old, he claimed his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at the 1.5-mile track and went on to win twice more there in the series.