Toyota Racing – Erik Jones
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Bristol Motor Speedway – April 13, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones was made available to the media at Bristol Motor Speedway:
ERIK JONES, No. 20 DeWalt Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How excited are you to be here at Bristol this weekend?
“Well, I’m always excited to come to Bristol in anything really and you know last year it was a place I was excited to get to. I had a good run here in the spring. We didn’t finish where we wanted, but then in the fall had a really really fast car that had a good shot to win. Coming back, I knew that we had a good baseline to lean back on and they hadn’t really changed anything here, so obviously gets you excited to come back. Just a track that’s fun. I was telling Chris (Gayle, crew chief) when we came here to test for a tire test that I felt like I could make laps around here all day. It’s just a lot of fun to drive and always excited to come back, so pretty pumped up for the weekend.”
Does the track feel any different here today than it did last fall?
“It does feel a little different I guess, but I think it’ll change as the day goes – two more Xfinity practices here, so it’s probably going to gain a little bit more grip, but it does feel like it’s got a little bit less grip than it had here in the fall last year. We did change tires. It’s a different construction on the tire that we came and tested and I thought it was a little bit different overall. I was expecting it to be a little bit different. It’s not exactly as it was.”
How motivating is your second-place finish last year knowing that you have cars capable of winning the race?
“You’re always motivated when you come to a track to win, especially when you come back to somewhere you feel like that you had a car that could do it and just didn’t close out the deal. Winning my first Cup race is something that I really want to get done. I feel like if we can get one knocked out of the way that more is kind of going to come with that, so we’re going to continue to push this weekend. We had a good first practice, but there’s still a long ways to go yet to get to where we want to be and get to the race and feel like we’re in it with a shot, but very motivated. It’s good to come back to a place where your team is fast, where you’re comfortable and the car unloads good. We’ve had a good weekend so far, we just need to keep it heading that way.”
What’s behind the college tour you’re doing lately?
“I’m not going to be taking any classes. I think for me it’s just fun to kind of go around and see different campuses and schools. I was always a big college football fan and college sports in general – basketball, football, even I watched Michigan hockey when I was growing up. I think for me it’s a way to kind of go and meet students at the school that maybe don’t know about NASCAR and get people to come out to the race track. That’s obviously my goal is to get people interested in NASCAR and wanting to come to these races and be fans and check it out, but for me, from my side it’s fun for me to just go around and see all the schools. They’re always so impressive to see the campuses and meet some of these people that I’ve watched and looked up to for a long time in the sports programs over there, so it’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed it a lot and just excited to see kind of where else we get to go this year and some of the other campuses.”
Looking back at your first start at Bristol, how were you feeling and what was the pressure like?
“I was thinking about that when I got to the track this morning. For some reason it kind of popped in my head that day. It was – that was a weird day. My parents were in town. They had actually just left to go to the airport and I was laying on the couch and I think I had just woke up from a nap after the, after the rain delay had begun. It was wild. Bristol was – honestly at that time I didn’t have a lot of experience at Bristol and really didn’t – I wasn’t that comfortable here. We had just ran okay. We had never ran well here and showing up and hopping in – I remember sitting in the hauler and Denny (Hamlin) had walked in. He apologized actually to me. He was like ‘I know this isn’t the way you probably want to make your first start,” and I kind of laughed. He gave me kind of a quick onceover of the car and Dave Rogers at the time, the crew chief, gave me a quick plan of what the day was going to go like and we went for it. It was quite a day, but it was a good experience looking back on it.”
Do you have any additional colleges you plan to visit in the coming weeks?
“Not right now. I’m trying to do hopefully around seven to 10, so we’ll hopefully get our next one knocked out soon.”
How has your relationship with Kyle Busch evolved over the years?
“I guess it changed every year. It has changed every year. In trucks I was calling him every weekend and asking him for advice and trying to figure out some of the tracks and even in Xfinity for pretty much my whole time there I was still asking him for a lot of help everywhere we went. In the Cup Series I have asked him for help. I still give him a call every once in a while. I think the information is more shared now I guess. I guess there’s times where I can give things back, which is you know nice for me. It’s very rewarding and it’s really a big compliment from Kyle if he ever comes and asks me questions about certain things that are going on at tracks and kind of what I was doing here or there, but I still do ask him for help a lot. Martinsville I was asking him questions for quite a while and there’s a few other places where I still ask for a lot of help. I guess he’s not a full-on mentor like he used to be when we were in trucks and Xfinity, but I still do ask him for a lot of help.”
Matt Kenseth had top-five runs here with the 20 team. How much of what they were able to do last year has benefitted you this year or is it just different?
“It’s pretty different. There are some things though that we could carry over, but for the most part, we’ve been going off a lot of the setups we were racing last year with Furniture Row. We share that information and we were able to lean back on a lot of that stuff and build off similar setups from that and we’ve done the same thing here this weekend. We started with a very similar setup to what we raced here in the fall last year and when you come to tracks like Bristol, honestly, setups are all pretty close. If you look at the four cars of (Joe Gibbs Racing) JGR this weekend, our stuff is pretty much laying on top of each other for setup wise. It’s the way it is here for some reason. So there was some stuff that we could lean back on and learn from and just different processes that the engineers use that they used with Matt and some things that they did last year different than what we did. It is a new process in some of ways of what we’re using to get these setups to get them where we want to, so there was some stuff we could learn.”
How did the Indy package in the Xfinity Series go and how do you think it will pan out in the All-Star race?
“The Xfinity package I guess was pretty interesting at Indy. By yourself, you were wide open. It was easy wide open, but in the pack, in traffic, you’d have to lift a little bit. It was interesting to try to get runs and set yourself up to make moves at Indy I thought, though it did make for more passing. Really, honestly, if you look back at the race it was probably a better race than what had been there in the past in the Xfinity Series. At Charlotte, I don’t know how it’s going to work. I think the intention is for us to be wide open and be similar to restrictor-plate racing. I don’t know if it’s going to work out like that because I do think there’s still going to be some handling aspects and I think you’re probably not going to be able to be wide open in traffic when you’re behind other cars. It’s really hard to say how it’s going to work out. I honestly don’t have a good feel for it of what it’s going to be like on a 1.5-mile like Charlotte, but it is going to be way different. It’s not going to be anything like what you’ve seen at Charlotte in the past for sure.”
When you tested with Goodyear, did they have the VHT down?
“Yeah, they did apply it I think the day before, so it was pretty, pretty accurate.”
How value is the Goodyear testing for you as a driver getting laps at the track?
“It’s still valuable. Any time you get more laps on the track and get more experience at a place is really important, especially for me. This is only – other than the other impromptu start I made here, this is only my third time here, so I don’t have a ton of laps here in a Cup car yet and any time you get there – I mean you do still get to make small adjustments on your car so you’re still learning stuff and kind of figuring out how the track has changed and with the rubber being laid down on it from cars making laps and it is valuable. I was able to kind of look back and fortunately they picked one of the tires we tested, so I was able to kind of get a leg up on some of the other guys here and know what that tire was going to feel like and have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to do in the long run. I think we made a 50 or 60 lap run on it, so I have a pretty good idea it.”