Furniture Row Racing driver Erik Jones was made available to the media at Kentucky Speedway:
ERIK JONES, No. 77 SiriusXM Toyota Camry, Furniture Row Racing
Talk about coming back to Kentucky, especially with Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky right down the road in Georgetown.
“It always nice to come back to Kentucky. It’s been a good track too. I’ve had – I feel like we should’ve won a few races here in the past couple years between truck and XFINITY. Just haven’t had it quite work out between mistakes I’ve made and pit strategies we’ve had and the way they’ve played out, it just hasn’t worked out. Other than that, it is cool to be back here. This is kind of – it’s Toyota’s home race. You think of Michigan as being the home race for the manufacturers, but Kentucky is really Toyota’s home base for the Camry so it’s kind of cool to come down here and race in front of a lot of people that really support that. Just nice to be here. This is actually pretty close to home really from where I grew up. I’ve got a lot of family that’s driving down here today and tomorrow to come and support, so it makes it pretty fun.”
How has your relationships with teammate Martin Truex Jr. developed since the start of the year?
“I didn’t know Martin (Truex Jr.) at all until this year. I had never talked to him. He wasn’t in the JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) fold, so I didn’t really know him. He was never around, so having to – you know just to get to him this year and be able to have someone to lean on that has a lot of experience in the Cup Series and is successful – he’s already won two races this year so it’s just nice to have that benchmark for the 77 team, of a team that is competitive and that is racing for wins pretty much every week. Having that to rely on and having somebody to look at, to know what you need to get better at and then be able to get to ask Martin how to get better at those thing has been a big help and then having his data as well, pretty much every week to look back on and figure out what he’s doing on any given week as well for (crew chief) Chris Gayle having (No. 78 crew chief) Cole Pearn to kind of lean on and figure out some of the things they’re doing. So all together just that whole group as an entirety has been a big help for us.”
Are you consumed with what you need to do to get in the playoffs or are you doing your best every week and whatever happens happens?
“We’ve mapped it all out. We know, you know, exactly what we do need to do. And Chris (Gayle) and I haven’t had time to sit down yet and really divulge into that. We’re going to hopefully do that Sunday. I think he’s going to come to North Carolina for a little bit so hopefully we have time to really go through it and figure out exactly what needs to be done. For me, I try to run the best I can every weekend. It’s hard when you look back on the season and look at certain races and it’s like ‘man, you know that day should’ve went better or this finish should’ve been better’ and it’s like all those points, if you add them together, we’re in there. So hopefully we can run well enough to get back in it. And then if it gets down to it, we really – if we just win a race, we don’t have to talk about it at all. That’d be nice to do, but you know we know what we need to do and we’re going to try and do it every week.”
As far as next year goes, do you have a big say in choice in the matter or is it what Joe Gibbs what you wants to do?
“I’m just driving. For the most part, for me, whether – I don’t know where I’m going to be yet. They haven’t let me know. For me, I’ve been really happy at Furniture Row (Racing) and it’s been a steady group of guys over there that I think work really well together. I don’t yet. Hopefully I know soon. You know it’s kind of getting down to that point. I guess it’s July now, so I’m sure we’ll have an answer here soon.”
How good did it feel to come out of Daytona with a good finish?
“That was nice. You know, just after the race – we really, I thought we were going to get in trouble again. We got spun late and I was like man, it’s going to be another one of those days where we ran decent and we weren’t going to be able to get that finish. Luckily we were able to get up to ninth there in the last few laps. It’s just nice to finish a speedway race. You know really, we’ve had some bad luck at a lot of races this year, so it was nice to – a race that’s full of needing a lot of good luck, it was nice to get a good finish at it.”
What pressure do you have as a young driver replacing these veteran drivers as they retire?
“I think you see it more and more now that we’re getting more and more competitive each week. Obviously, Kyle Larson – he’s on fire. He’s winning a ton of races and running up front every week and then you see Ryan (Blaney) getting his first win. I think as young guys we want to all get to that level where we’re running well, running up front, contending for wins each week and then taking that role of those top guys in the sport and having a voice in the sport and having a say in how things go. We’re all trying to get there. I really have looked at this year as a learning year, for me at least. It’s been a big learning year for myself. I look at hopefully next year as really trying to go out and beat that guy that’s contending for wins more and more each week. I think we’re all, like I said, just trying to get to that point and be those top guys in the sport, have a voice and then figure out what we need to do to bring those younger fans in.”
What have you learned the most and who have you leaned on the most this year?
“I’ve learned a lot. I was just saying a minute ago – I was on SiriusXM – that I think I’ve learned more in this year already, halfway through the Cup season, than I learned in two years of mostly full-time XFINITY, so that’s been huge for me just trying to figure out what it takes to win these Cup races and some of the things that go along with the Cup Series and just how competitive it is. As for who I’ve leaned on the most, I’ve leaned on Martin (Truex Jr.) a lot and the 78 group as well as Chris Gayle, my crew chief. You know asking him ‘hey what do I need to get better at? What do I need to do better each week’? We’ve been working on all those things and trying to improve and I still talk to Kyle a lot – Kyle Busch. He’s always been a guy that I’ve leaned on quite a bit throughout my entire NASCAR career. Those couple guys and just trying to figure out what I need to do better has been some of the biggest things for me.”
How much do you think your team has developed as this season has progressed?
“I think a lot. A lot of guys on my team actually haven’t been in the Cup Series full time. They’ve been there, but haven’t had a chance to do it for a full year, so even as far as my crew chief, Chris Gayle, he’s never been in the Cup Series as a crew chief full time. It’s been a big learning year for just everybody. I think me and Chris have come a long way in terms of communication. Chris has done a really good job here in the last few weeks of having some really really solid strategies and getting us up front and in position to run up front and contend for wins. And then as far as even the pit crew has come a long way. We had a lot of struggles at the beginning of the year where I can think of four or five races that kind of got away from us on pit road where we should’ve ran top 10 or top five and they’ve really been solid here over the last month and a half. We haven’t had any issues with them, so that’s a lot of work on their end. That’s a lot of, a lot of three day, four day a week practices, which is a lot for them. A lot for a pit crew. It’s just been impressive to see the dedication from everybody trying to improve and trying to get better and then seeing it kind of play out on the track.”
Did you do the tire test here?
How different is another layer of asphalt on the track from last year to this year?
“It’s back to, you know, a full repave again essentially. They came and they did the tire dragon before we got on track but it rained the entire first day so it washed it all off and then had to kind of run it back in, so it felt like Texas really – just a full repave. Hopefully with the trucks being out there all day yesterday, truck race tonight, XFINITY practice today, it’ll be pretty worked in for the Cup cars here tomorrow, but it’s still a whole new repave, a whole new deal again.”
Do you have any extra racing outside of NASCAR for this year?
“Not right now. It’s been crazy you know over the last few years – I was able to run a lot of Late Model races and at least five or six a year, which I think is quite a few Late Model races, just the way they are. A lot of the mid-week shows have been going away in Late Models. There was – I ran up in Berlin (Michigan) a few weeks ago on Monday. Beyond that I think there’s one more mid-week show I could actually even do which is in Kalamazoo (Mich.) in a couple of weeks, which I don’t have plans to run right now. It’s just been tough to find races to run and haven’t really been able to do much.”
What was your reaction when you saw the truck drivers complaining that the tire dragon only did the middle to low groove with the tire dragon?
“I saw that. The thing is I thought they did a really good job at Texas. You saw multi-groove racing at Texas on a repave which is pretty unheard of. They can only do so much man. If we tire drag the whole track, everybody is naturally going to go back to the bottom because it’s a repave and it’s going to be – it’s just gonna be faster down there. It’s just how it’s going to work. I think even if they drag the top in, I don’t think it’s going to be faster up by the wall than it would be right on the white line. It’s just a repave and it’s going to be like this for ten years. We’re going to be on the bottom and then we’ll start to work up to the middle. Kentucky really, even on the old surface, was just starting to get up to the wall, so it just takes time.”