By Dustin Albino

LEBANON, Tenn. — There’s no way to sugarcoat it, the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season hasn’t gone as planned for Legacy Motor Club. The No. 43 team is having a complete 180 degree turnaround compared to its standout season last season, which included a win in the Southern 500. Noah Gragson has also had growing pains as a rookie.

The bright spots through the opening 16 races were a pair of top-10 finishes for Erik Jones in pack-style races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Neither team showed much raw speed on downforce tracks.

Until Sunday.

Following the 50-minute practice session on Friday, Jones thought he had a car capable of finishing inside the top 10. Having an early draw in qualifying, he knew he’d likely start deep in the field for Sunday’s Ally 400. He took the green flag in 23rd.

It didn’t take long for Jones to finesse his way through the field. The No. 43 Chevrolet ended the first stage in 16th. During the second stage, Jones charged up to 10th, earning his first stage point since early May at Kansas Speedway.

Over the second half of the race, Jones remained a top-10 threat. He took the checkered flag in eighth position, Legacy’s first top-10 finish on a traditional oval since last October at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when it was Petty GMS.

It was a much needed top 10 result for Jones.

“Yeah, for sure, when you‘re struggling and in a rut and it seems like you‘re never going to get out of it,” Jones said on why he needed the top 10. “We kept working, and I knew we were going to get our stuff better, it was just a matter of putting the pieces together. We‘ve been trying some stuff the last month and felt like Gateway was going to be a good day for us an we had the incident on pit road.

“Today, I think we put everything together. Huge step forward and hopefully more for the rest of the season.”

In May, Legacy Motor Club announced it would make the transition to Toyota from Chevrolet for the 2024 season. With the move, it removes Legacy Motor Club from having all of the up-to-date data from Chevrolet. It also means in 2024, the team will become a key partner to Toyota and will have all the necessary tools to be successful.

Jones was also docked 60 points and assessed an L1 penalty for the No. 43 team modifying the greenhouse of its car, which was discovered at the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina following the Gateway race.

That penalty dropped Jones to 30th in points. But he knows the No. 43 team is going to have to fight and claw for every position the rest of the season and won’t give up.

“With the penalty we got, we‘re pretty far back in points, so a lot out the window on the year,” Jones noted. “We want to run well. There‘s nothing else we can do but got out and run like this. Top 10ing it for us is really good right now with where we‘re at.

“Hopefully, we can continue that the rest of the year, build off this and move forward.”

The last couple of months, however, has certainly tested the No. 43 bunch. Jones is certain that nobody on the team will give up.

“We knew everyone was going to stick together and work at this deal to try to get it better,” he said. “Just got to keep pushing forward and get it better. We‘re a bit on an island, but still have stuff to learn to apply for next year.”

Jones remains 30th in the championship standings. Without the penalty three weeks ago, he would be slotted 27th.

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