Toyota Racing – Erik Jones
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Michigan International Speedway – June 8, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones was made available to the media at Michigan International Speedway:
ERIK JONES, No. 20 DEWALT Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How would it feel to get a win here in your home state?
“It would be special, you know? I mean, coming home to Michigan and spend some time at home and coming back to the, you know, track that’s so close to my house is nice. Any first win would be big and especially Michigan, so just excited to be back here and excited to be staying close to home for a weekend and having an opportunity to race here.”
Are the top Cup Series drivers winning races over young guys on talent or experience?
“A mix, you know? I mean, obviously they’re very good drivers, but it’s hard to compete with guys that have been in this series – I mean, Kyle’s (Busch) been in the series for I don’t know, 15 years and Truex close to it – so when you have that much experience not only in one car, but at these tracks as well for that long, it definitely gives you an advantage. But they’ve also got great teams behind them too, you know? Obviously, all three of those guys have crew chiefs who have worked with them for a few years now and are very successful with them and just have a good chemistry together and their teams are on it as well. They don’t make mistakes throughout the weekend and they qualify well, stay up front, so it’s a whole mixed bag, but, you know, it’s a group of things that I’m trying to obviously get right with our group as well, you know? You want to have the same things, so just got to keep working at it on our end, but it’s definitely a combination I think.”
What are you favorite memories at this track?
“You know, I came here a couple times growing up. I didn’t get to come a lot – we were racing ourselves on the weekends, so I think I came here once in maybe 2011, ’12, something like that and it was just me and my dad and we got to come and hang out in the infield and that was really cool. We got some passes through – through someone. I don’t remember who it was, but we got to walk around and hang out and hang out in the suite down here, so just a fun weekend overall to just to spend with him and be here and be around racing and it was only my first or second time coming down to MIS and only my first or second Cup race at that time too, so it was just cool to spend the day with him and be around the Cup race here as well, so that was probably my favorite one.”
Is it frustrating how slow success can come at the Cup level when compared to the lower series?
“Yeah, it’s frustrating as a driver, you know? You go through Trucks and Xfinity and feel like in those series you’re capable of winning every weekend and you get into the Cup Series and it’s just not possible. You’ve got a couple guys usually that dominate throughout the season and last year it was (Martin) Truex (Jr.) obviously and Kyle (Busch) and this year it’s kind of the same story, so it’s just tough. You know, guys get on a roll, they get the right group of guys together and it seems like it’s just tough to beat them for a while. You’ve seen that from kind of over NASCAR’s history whether it be those guys or Jimmie (Johnson) back 10 years ago and it just kind of happens, so just trying to kind of get to that level where you can win races is definitely challenging in the Cup Series and it’s not easy when you race against groups of guys that have been at it for a long time and have a lot of experience and you feel like you’re playing catch up in a way. So, yeah, I mean it’s frustrating at times, but you know it’s the weekends where you are competitive and running up front and know you can go out and win these races and let it pump you up and keep you motivated to keep going after it.”
Is there a reason you’ve fared well at this track?
“You know, I think it’s a combination of things. Michigan is a place that I do like – I like to race at – and I’ve had some good cars here in Trucks, Xfinity and the Cup Series last year we had two good race cars as well, so it’s a combination. I think you’re also a little bit extra motivated when it is your home track, you know? You want to run really well on and put on a good show for friends and family, but Michigan is just a place I’ve been comfortable at from the start. I felt like I knew what I needed to do to go fast and had some good teammates as well to rely on for information to try to improve on that.”
Why have recent young drivers fared well at this track?
“I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think Michigan is a place that’s a little bit more of a higher grip track even though we have low downforce here and still the cars are very on edge and that goes back to a lot of the stuff I think we drove coming through the ranks. We came up in Trucks and high-downforce Xfinity days and learned how to go fast in those cars and had success there and when we come to a place like this, I think we can translate a lot of things we’ve learned in the Trucks and the Xfinity Series from the days we were driving them early on in our careers, so I think that’s a part of it, you know? Old experience we have from some of the other cars that translate here, so I think that’s probably a big reason why some of the younger guys have been fast here.”
Is it difficult to control your emotions as you chase your first Cup win?
“No, I think you can control it pretty well. I really thought last year we had a shot to win a few races and was bummed we didn’t get to close them out and didn’t get that first win and this year we’ve had a couple good races where we ran up front and had a cars I thought were capable in the right situation of winning races, but, you know, it’s frustrating. I mean, in ways you know you want to win your first race and get that out of the way, but I feel like it will come in time, you know? I don’t think you look at some other young guys in this series and it’s not necessarily a race for myself, you know? If they were out there winning five races a year, I would definitely feel a lot of pressure, but it’s something that takes time and I want to obviously be the young guy that’s at the top of the heap and running up there and winning races, but it just – it takes time and experience and hopefully you get to that point eventually.”
What is the makeup of your fan base when you go an event and do you get to choose how you engage with them?
“Yeah, I think it’s a pretty big cross, you know? There’s some of your classic, grassroots race fans who have been fans of the sport for years and there’s some younger fans too as well that are interested in NASCAR and are fans of me, so it’s a pretty big mix. I don’t get to pick my appearances unfortunately with sponsors – they kind of tell me where to go – but we have done the college tours this year, which has been good and trying to cater to that younger fan base – people around my age – so it’s a challenge at times to find out what the right balance is of it, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job, especially with the college tours of trying to get more people involved and get a younger demographic to look at the sport.”
What is the mindset of the Toyota drivers who don’t have wins currently – do you feel like you have the same opportunity?
“It’s not a question of what does he have, you know? We know what he’s got and it’s the same stuff that we got. They just have done a better job of executing and taking advantage of it and obviously Kyle’s (Busch) a very talented driver and he’s able to really take what he’s got and be successful with it and the style of race car fits him very well as well, you know? He’s able to take this package and be very fast with it and has from the start. I think you also look at Kyle and he’s done a really good job of qualifying this year and has stayed up front. I don’t – you know, I can’t remember a time he was farther back than seventh or eighth in the last 10 races, so that all plays an effect too, so it’s just a big combination, you know? It’s not one thing and you can’t pinpoint one thing on any one that makes them successful in racing and Kyle’s just got the whole package right now. He’s got a great team, he’s a great driver and he’s really able to take advantage of it.”
Is experience a big factor in that?
“I think so for sure, you know. I mean, all that group has been together for a long time now – I mean, since really 2015 it’s been the same core group, so that’s three, four years of experience leading into 2018 and I think it plays a big part in it. Kyle’s (Busch) obviously had a lot of experience with a lot of different guys and he’s able to really be a good team leader and show those guys the right direction to go in and how to be better and how to improve each week.”
What experiences have you had with the college tours?
“A lot of it when I went there and talked to them a lot of them are more watching it on social media and streaming rather than TV and some of them have actually been to races before and watched it, but a lot of them are more casual fans and watch and just keeping up with the race through Twitter or whatever else – Facebook and not necessarily sitting down and watching the race, which is I think is pretty normal for this generation. It’s a lot of sports that I’ll watch through Twitter or whatever – just try to keep up with casually rather than sit down and watching it all, so it’s been fun though. It’s been fun to see them there. A lot of people are interested in going to the races that are my age, but just aren’t necessarily sure how to do it sometimes and what the race really offers, so to kind of sit there and show them what you can really do and the tailgating experience of coming to a NASCAR race has really opened up some of their eyes to what you can really have – or what kind of experience you can have really have at a race.”
Did you convert a lot of them into fans?
“I don’t know about that. I mean, hope I did a few of them, but overall it’s their choice at the end of the day, but I think it definitely opened their eyes like I said to a new experience. I mean, I don’t think a lot of people realize the experience that racing is – it’s not necessarily just showing up and going to the grandstands. You can do that, but the thing is it’s the whole weekend – it’s hanging out with your friends, your camping or tailgating in the parking lot before the race and it’s a whole day or a whole weekend thing.”
Are you feeling quietly confident and patient?
“I do. I feel like I’m fairly calm about it. I feel like it will just – it’ll come in time. There’s no reason to stress or worry about it. I just know that we’re doing all we can to put ourselves in that position to do it and hoping that we do the right things to make it happen, so do I think all the young guys will start to kind of roll in and start winning some races? It’s definitely possible, you know? We’re all with very good teams. Ryan’s (Blaney) been very fast this year, as well as Kyle (Larson) and Chase (Elliott) as well, so I could definitely see us all winning some races here in the coming months before the Playoffs or even in the Playoffs, so it’ll just be interesting to see what happens, you know? There’s a lot of teams that are working on stuff and getting cars better and it’s going to be interesting to see really who rises to the top here in the next couple months.”