FORT WORTH, Texas – Erik Jones will start sixth in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, but he just wants to get to the end of it.
The Camping World Truck Series driver turned Sprint Cup substitute is hoping to complete all 334 laps of the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“If we can say that (we finished) and have run in the top 15 I think that’s a really good day for us,” Jones said.
Jones, 19, was tapped to drive the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing after Matt Kenseth was suspended two races for intentionally crashing Joey Logano last weekend at Martinsville Speedway. It will be his third time in the seat of a Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup car.
In his first two substitute efforts, Jones did not complete every lap. He replaced Denny Hamlin 22 laps into the spring Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway after a rain delay and finished 26th, six laps off the lead.
Then at Kansas, while replacing an injured Kyle Busch, Jones finished 40th as the last car running after crashing on Lap 197.
“In Kansas, we had really good speed and unfortunately didn’t put ourselves in even a position to have a shot by not making it to the end, which was my fault,” Jones said. “I want to be able to make it to the end of the race and say we ran all 334 laps on Sunday.”
His attempt to accomplish that feat will be directed by crew chief Jason Ratcliff, someone he barely knows. Their first time to work together came in the Cup series’ first practice session Friday.
“Going into this weekend I didn’t know Jason that well, I’d only met him once,” Jones said. “I really didn’t know anybody that worked on the 20 so I just had to kind of get to know people.”
A big part of that process was “getting the chemistry” down between Ratcliff and Jones through terminology during during the practice session.
“I think we did a nice job of kind of accelerating that process in practice and getting a little closer on that,” Jones said.
The session ended with Jones eighth fastest. Hours later, Jones qualified sixth for his second Cup start.
“We made the final round at Kansas as well, so it’s cool to make the final round in both our starts,” Jones said. “We’ll see where it goes from here, obviously we’ve got a long ways to go yet for Sunday – 500 miles.
Jones said after Truck qualifying that he hadn’t spoken with Kenseth on Friday, but would probably send him a text seeking out his thoughts on the track and Ratcliff.
Kenseth has won at Texas twice in his Sprint Cup career. Earning his first Cup win at Texas or Phoenix International Raceway isn’t a thought Jones has dismissed.
“The 20 team has been really, really fast here the last month as well as the rest of Joe Gibbs Racing,” Jones said. “I think we have a good shot here and I’m excited to get to Phoenix for sure. That’s probably one of my favorite tracks we get to go to. It’s not out of the question, but I think it’s definitely a little far-fetched in some ways.”
Maybe even more far-fetched is the prospect of Jones sweeping the weekend. But the Michigan native has chance after winning Friday’s Truck race. Should he complete every scheduled lap of the tripleheader, Jones would run 681 laps over 1,021 miles.
When it comes to such a feat, Jones can lean on Truck team owner Kyle Busch for advice on how to mange a feat they weren’t sure he would be eligible for until Thursday night.
“He’ll be done after Sunday night,” Busch said. “I remember some of my first triples, they were pretty hard to handle. He’s run enough laps this year, hopefully he’s ready for it.”