Toyota Racing – Erik Jones
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Texas Motor Speedway – April 6, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones was made available to the media at Texas Motor Speedway:
ERIK JONES, No. 20 Reser’s Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Talk about being back at Texas Motor Speedway for the race here this weekend.
“Texas has always been a place that I’ve enjoyed from really everything I’ve ran here from trucks to Xfinity and now in Cup. The repave changed it a lot here last year and you know made it quite a bit different than what it was. A little bit different and I’ve enjoyed it so far. It’s been a fun track. Always like coming down here. I love the track. Really like the area as well and it’s just one of my favorite places we get to go to.”
Have you seen the ‘New Kids on the Track’ banner that Texas Motor Speedway has here this weekend?
“Well, I’ve seen it. So we were actually just talking about it in the hauler and I don’t know the New Kids on the Block. I was born in 1996 and the last year they were a group was 1995. They asked me what new kid on the block I was and I was like ‘man, I’ve got to be honest with you, I have no idea’. I saw that though. It’s cool. It made me laugh. I liked the sign they put next to it better. At first I thought (Kevin) Harvick actually put it there. I was like that, that’s pretty funny, but then I realized the track did it.”
There’s been a lot of discussion about the generational divide and if the older drivers are jealous of the younger drivers. What’s your take on that?
“Well, I think it’s just cyclical. We haven’t had a young group – crop of guys all enter the sport at once in I don’t know, probably 15 years now. When you see this many young guys coming at once, obviously I think NASCAR’s done a good job trying to promote us and give us an advantage early on to get our names out there and get some more fans and get some more exposure and you know we all appreciate it. I mean we’re willing to take advantage of those events and I think (Ryan) Blaney said it well. Well I guess it was back at Media Day now in Charlotte – I think we’re just more willing to take some of these opportunities that they’re not willing to. You know a lot of them have families and want to spend as much time at home as they can and for us to take a trip to wherever or spend some extra time somewhere isn’t as big of a deal. I think we’re just more willing right now to take advantage of some of those opportunities.”
Your team has been fairly consistent so far this season, but you haven’t led any laps since Daytona. Where is your team at right now and are you as good as your Joe Gibbs Racing teammates or missing something?
“I feel like Denny (Hamlin) and I have run really similar most weekends. Kyle (Busch) has obviously been a little bit of a step ahead of us running up in the top five consistently, so we just need to take that next leap of getting up towards the top five and contending more and leading laps. We did a good job of that towards the end of last season on the No. 77 of running in the top five a little bit more. We’re running better early on than we did last year. We’re getting some top 10s. Martinsville was a struggle, which it’s always kind of been for me. That wasn’t too much of a surprise. We’ve ran well on the West Coast and you know I think coming to Texas, you know this is the weekend where I’ve kind of got marked down where we get up in the top five and hopefully contend more throughout the day. Auto Club was a better race for us. Hopefully coming here we can get up and just get some stage – that’s the big thing we’ve been missing out on is stage points this year. We haven’t done a good job. Our mid-point of the race we haven’t ran as well as we should have and haven’t earned those stage points like we really should have. You know hopefully this weekend we can get up front and run in the top five.”
Has it helped to be with a team back in North Carolina closer to you?
“It’s definitely nice to see everybody. I enjoy hanging out with my team and being around the guys and being able to go up and see Chris (Gayle, crew chief) in person. It makes it easier to discuss things. You can do as much as you want over the phone and you know everything else, but there’s nothing like just getting to go face-to-face and seeing and talk to Chris, talk to the engineers, talk to the guys in the car, so it’s been nice for me. I’ve enjoyed it. I enjoyed my time at Furniture Row, but it’s definitely nice to see everybody face-to-face again.”
Does your success here in the Xfinity Series give you confidence to figure this place out in the Cup Series?
“Yeah, it definitely gives you some confidence. I mean it’s very different, but I would say on a repave like this, the two cars are more similar than maybe any other weekend. There’s a lot of things I feel like I take from the Xfinity car you know that assisted in some speed, so getting over to the Cup car there’s a lot of things that I remember from last year that we needed to work on. There’s a new left-side tire here this weekend, which has been really different. We fired off practice nowhere where we needed to be, but did a good job of turning it around and getting it close. We’ll kind of see where it goes, but I think there is a lot of information I can lean on from my Xfinity stuff here.”
How do you decide how to be aggressive and where to lay back coming into the sport so young?
“You know starting the year last year, I thought I was kind of laid back and you know biding my time and finishing races well. Then as the year went on, I got more and more aggressive and you know at times would get myself into accidents. We had a lot of DNFs in the midpoint of the year and towards the end of the year which we really – was my own fault quite a few times. I think just trying to find that middle ground this year has been important to me and finding out a good balance of charging hard. I mean you want to run as hard as you can every lap, but sometimes you got to take what is given to you. If it’s a seventh- or eighth-place day, it’s a seventh- or eighth-place day. I feel like there was times we had a sixth- or seventh-place car and I was really pushing the limit to get it up in the top five or four and that’s when we would get into trouble. I think early on I’ve – these first few races I’ve done a better job at it. We just need to keep going down that path.”
Your fourth on the list in qualifying averages. How do you maintain that to where your finishes are getting closer to where you’re starting?
“I was home last week in Michigan and I was laughing because I’ve got a lot of pole awards from go karts and late models and I don’t have as many trophies as I have pole awards. I think going fast in my career hasn’t been the issue. I think sometimes we just don’t have – you know I really have optimized my car for speed, which is great, but it doesn’t transfer over to the race and we don’t race as well into the long run. I think we’re kind of working out some new stuff over on the No. 20 team. It’s two new engineers than what Chris (Gayle, crew chief) worked with last year and what I worked with last year. We’re kind of all learning each other and figuring out what we need to do you know from qualifying – from happy hour to the race and overnight, bouncing off those adjustments. We had really gotten to a point last year where I felt really comfortable in saying what the car was doing and what it needed and we would make really good changes and start the race off really strong. So far this year, I feel like there’s been times where we just haven’t started the race where we need to be. We’ve ended practice decent and then the changes we make overnight aren’t exactly what we need. We just need to improve on that and you know if we can do that, it’ll bode a lot better obviously. We just got to start the races better, that’s been our issue.”