While running in the top 10, Danica Patrick slides up the track and into Jason Bowles .
With the way the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was turning laps around the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in Sunday's AAA Texas 500 , you'd think a certain former premier series champion was behind the wheel. Instead, it was 19-year-old Erik Jones . Filling in for the suspended Matt Kenseth , Jones -- in just his second career Sprint Cup Series start and third Sprint Cup appearance, all of which were in other drivers' cars -- spent much of the day in the top 10 in what proved to be a challenging race for some of the sport's most seasoned vets. Jones wasn't invincible to the rampant tire issues that plagued many, having a right-front go down and tearing up the nose of his Toyota Camry, but he battled back to finish 12th, a more-than-acceptable result for a driver still earning his stripes. "I wish we could have been a little stronger there at the end," Jones said on pit road after the race. "We had that right-front go down and it tore the nose up pretty good so kind of took us out of a shot at a top-10. To still come home 12th is a good day for us." Jones -- originally scheduled to run both the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series races -- had to change his Sunday plans when he learned on Thursday that Matt Kenseth had lost both appeals to get his suspension dropped and that a replacement was needed. His doubleheader quickly turned into a tripleheader, and a successful one at that. The Kyle Busch Motorsports/ Joe Gibbs Racing driver built on his points lead with a win in Friday's Truck Series race and followed it up with a fourth-place showing in Saturday's XFINITY event. Perhaps the biggest things he'll take away from the weekend, however, are the lessons learned on Sunday. "You really have to be on top of your game and if you have any mistake like we did with the right-front, it really takes you out of any shot you have to run well," said Jones. "Just staying in it and staying out front, that's the biggest thing you need to do. I thought we did a decent job of staying in the top 10 all day up to that point. Other than that, it was a good day for us." Jones, who also mentioned he's "ready to take a day off" after the busy weekend, gets to do it all again (the tripleheade that is) next weekend. Kenseth's suspension will keep him out until Homestead, thus "The Kid" will suit up once more for the Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix. Jones picked up his first career NASCAR national series victory there in 2013 at the age of 17 in the November Truck Series race, then backed it up the following year with another. With an added week of preparation with No. 20 crew chief Jason Ratcliff, the combination sets himself up for even higher expectations in his third career start. So does he feel he could win? "I'd like to think so," Jones said. "My fortune has been very good at Phoenix, it's a track I really like and actually JGR was there testing a month or two ago. I feel pretty good about it and feel going there we have a good package. "I feel confident in my ability and think that's definitely a place where we can go up and run top-10. You never know, if the weekend is going well we could probably be up front and challenge for it."
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