Toyota Racing – Erik Jones
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Bristol Motor Speedway – April 5, 2019
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones was made available to the media in Bristol:
ERIK JONES, No. 20 Craftsman “Racing for a Miracle” Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How special was the Niswonger Children’s Hospital visit and the special program that you’ve got going on with Craftsman?
“Yeah it’s been great. I obviously have had a few opportunities to do stuff where the sponsor gives back to the community and this is by far the largest one with Craftsman. They’ve already given $100,000 to Children’s Miracle Network and then the possibility for one million dollars on Sunday if we win, so that’s obviously a huge deal. As far as that goes, going to the hospital and seeing the kids is just a neat opportunity. Any time you can brighten up a kid’s day a little bit, especially the kids that are in that position is a great feeling as a person. Not as a driver or as an athlete, but just as a person.”
Is there any hazing that goes along with you being the youngest on the Joe Gibbs Racing team?
“Not that I’ve noticed. Obviously I’m really close with Kyle (Busch), so nothing ever from him. Martin (Truex Jr.) doesn’t ever really talk so nothing from him either. Denny (Hamlin) is kind of the same way. He doesn’t talk either.”
How close are you to signing your contract extension?
“It’s going to take time obviously, but it’s in the works so hopefully we can get it knocked out here within the next couple of months. Obviously both sides are fighting against each other with the extension, but I think there’s a middle ground. We’re pretty close to where we both want to be. I want to be there for a long time and JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) I think wants to continue our relationship for a long time, so I feel like it’s pretty close.”
Do you worry about it being a contract year for you?
“I’ve always let it take care of itself. I have great people working with me. Alan Miller out of Michigan has always been really great to me. From the time I was 14 years old the guy helped me out and really led me in the right direction with getting hooked up with Toyota to begin with and then with KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) and JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and worked through that transition for Furniture Row for a year. I’ve never once questioned what I was going to be doing or where I was going to be racing the last three years. I think for me it’s something I’ve been fortunate not to have to think about.”
Somebody mentioned to Denny Hamlin that maybe he was in the hot seat this year and then with it being a contract year for you, do you think about it as maybe somebody is in trouble at Joe Gibbs Racing because Christopher Bell is coming up soon to the Cup Series?
“I don’t think either of us felt that way. I think both of us have felt pretty comfortable where we’re at. I think Christopher is a great driver, but still when he moves to the Cup level, it’s going to take time to develop. You’re going to take a year or two to really get where you want to be at that level. I think both of us feel comfortable. Obviously I’m very young compared to my teammates. I feel like I’m going to be there for a long time. I’m sure Christopher will get his opportunity in Cup at some point. He’s definitely got the talent and he’s good enough to do it so he’ll get there for sure.”
When you have two teammates that have multiple wins this season do you feel like you have to start winning too to keep up?
“Yeah, you always want to keep up with what you’re teammates are doing. Obviously Kyle (Busch) is very talented and last year he had a great year and he’s on pace for another great year. I feel like we were making the right strides. There was just a lot of circumstantial stuff that happened in the last few races that didn’t play out. Texas was a good race for us obviously. We have the speed and we’ve got the team. If we keep having races like Texas that win is going to come. I feel really good about this weekend. I feel like we’ve got a great chance to really knock this one out and have a pretty good race and hopefully win it. You feel that pressure, you want to win. If you’re team is strong and capable of winning, you want to be the guy that’s in victory lane too.”
Do you feel like your group is in the same place as Kyle Busch’s and Denny Hamlin’s teams?
“I feel like last weekend was the first weekend we were. A few weekends before that I didn’t feel like we were on the same level as them at least in the race. Speed wise we were there in practice, but we didn’t adjust to the race we needed to. Texas I felt like we were right there with them and making the changes and doing the stuff we needed to do to be just as competitive as they were.”
When you have the need to win in a contract year, will it make it extra special or is there extra pressure on you to get that win?
“No. I put pressure on myself. I’ve never really felt much pressure outside my own mind really. You always want to win races. At least I do. I think most guys do. For me racing is the one thing that I’ve loved to do for a long time and I’m very competitive about it. You always feel like pressure – I think most guys internally feel that pressure to go out and perform.”
What changed to make you more equal to your teammates do you think?
“Nothing really. I think we just learned a lot through the – the West Coast swing we learned a lot. Phoenix we had a mistake. We had a wheel come loose and had to pit and it ruined our day. California we just missed the adjustments late. Vegas kind of the same thing. Martinsville we got taken out. There was a lot of stuff that wasn’t going our way. It wasn’t all necessarily on us. Texas was the first race where it was like okay things kind of went our way today. I don’t know that we really changed a lot. We just kind of had a race where things finally didn’t go against us. It was a normal day for the most part and things worked out a little bit better.”