Erik Jones enjoys Michigan test, prepares for Truck title stretch run

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Tuesday’s Sprint Cup test at Michigan International Speedway was a look into NASCAR’s future in two different ways.

Not only did the test work on the low downforce package recently announced for the 2016 season, it also highlighted three of the sport’s future stars.

Defending Xfinity Series champ Chase Elliott, who will replace future Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon in Sprint Cup next year, was joined in the test by Xfinity points leader Chris Buescher and Truck Series points leader Erik Jones.

Elliott drove the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, while Buescher drove the No. 17 for Roush Fenway Racing and Jones drove the No. 11 for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Denny Hamlin was slated to drive the 11 in Tuesday’s test, but Jones learned Sunday morning those chores would fall to him.

“I’m sure Denny wants to get rested up and be 100 percent for the Chase,” Jones said. “It’s a pretty cool deal for me to get in a Cup car and get that experience and feel out the new package and see what’s different about it. Any time I can get laps in these cars is beneficial for me.”

Tuesday’s test was somewhat of a homecoming for Jones, who was in his hometown of Byron, Mich., on Sunday when he got the call to report to MIS on Tuesday morning.

But he also welcomed the additional seat time in a Cup car, as well as seeing and learning firsthand the nuances of the 2016 lower downforce package for Cup cars.

“It’s definitely a change for me,” Jones said. “I drove the Cup car a few months ago back at Kansas with the normal package they’re running in the Chase and it was a lot different.

“Just a different feel and different driving style and then coming here with the low downforce package, definitely a lot more off-throttle time, a little bit more challenging to drive, a little bit more driver input, which is nice. It feels good to me.

“Overall, I feel for the Cup series, this is a step in the right direction. … I think it’s a pretty good change.”

After a two-week hiatus, the Truck series resumes racing this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. Jones leads two-time defending champion Matt Crafton by four points in the standings.

“We’re going to do all we can to finish in front of Matt in the last few races,” Jones said. “It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be a fight to the end.

“Matt’s done a lot of homework and a lot of work on his end, and his team has done a lot to get their stuff better and they’ve been strong every week all year.

“It’s just been a fight and it’s just going to be like that all the way to Homestead, and I’m sure it’s not going to be settled until Homestead. It’s nerve-racking for us. We have the equipment to do it, it’s just a matter of going out and getting it done.”

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