Petty GMS Motorsports driver Erik Jones had the lead on the final lap of the Geico 500 Cup Series race on April 24, and he had the perfect opportunity to return to Victory Lane for the first time since 2019. He ultimately finished sixth after making a split-second decision, which drew comparisons to Matt DiBenedetto and the 2021 Geico 500.
Jones ran on the inside lane on the final lap, but he attempted to move to the outside to block Kyle Larson, who sent Kurt Busch into the wall with a move of his own. This decision put Jones in the middle lane while Ross Chastain maintained his line on the bottom and captured his second win of the year. Jones ultimately finished sixth overall, which was his third top-10 of the year.
The 2021 Geico 500 featured a similar decision by Matt DiBenedetto, who drove for Wood Brothers Racing at the time. He had the lead during overtime, and he took the white flag while running on the inside lane. However, DiBenedetto jumped to the outside in an attempt to block Ryan Blaney, which opened up a path for Brad Keselowski.
The decision to block Blaney backfired. DiBenedetto ran on the outside with space between him and Blaney. Keselowski, for comparison, had both Michael McDowell and Kevin Harvick pushing. The 2012 Cup Series champion jumped to the front of the pack and held off the field to win for the sixth time at Talladega Superspeedway — putting him in a tie with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. DiBenedetto finished fifth overall.
ALL the latest NASCAR news straight to your inbox! Subscribe to the Heavy on NASCAR newsletter here!
Jones Looked Back on His Decision
Hindsight is 20/20, something that NASCAR drivers have proved several times in recent years. Jones, in particular, put the popular saying at the forefront of the conversation while talking to media members after the race.
Jones explained that he felt good running up front in the No. 43 and that the U.S. Air Force-sponsored Chevrolet Camaro had good speed. The Michigan native then detailed how his move up the track ultimately derailed his opportunity to reach Victory Lane.
“Looking back, I wish I would have stayed at the bottom and let the [No.] 1 push me,” Jones told FOX Sports after the race. “I didn’t realize they were coming with that much speed. But try to defend on the 5 (Larson), you’re too far ahead already right here. Obviously, a defense on the [No.] 5 kind of gives the door to the 1. It is what it is. You’re trying to just win the race. You can only see how much is going on from the seat. You’re trying to make the best decision you can the last 1,500 feet.”
Jones Has Been Within Reach of Victory Lane
The sixth-place finish is not the first time that Jones has been within reach of Victory Lane at Talladega Superspeedway. He also came close during the 2020 season while driving the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Jones posted top-five finishes in both the Geico 500 and the YellaWood 500. The Geico 500, in particular, featured a wild finish as several drivers wrecked coming across the finish line while Ryan Blaney beat Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by .007 seconds.
Jones started the final lap ninth overall and running on the bottom line. He jumped up to the top behind Stenhouse before ultimately moving to the middle lane and attempting a pass with some help from John Hunter Nemechek. However, Blaney moved up and blocked his fellow driver.
Jones and Blaney were side-by-side coming out of the final turn, and it appeared that they would have a drag race to the finish line. The situation changed as contact sent the No. 20 hard into the outside wall. He slid across the finish line in the fifth position while Aric Almirola backed across the finish line in third place. Denny Hamin finished just behind Almirola while facing the right direction.