FORT WORTH, Texas – Standing on pit road following the second official Sprint Cup race of his career, Erik Jones didn’t look like someone who had completed a three-race, 1,021-mile weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
But the 19 year old was starting to feel it.
“I’m ready to take the day off,” Jones said after finishing 12th in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “I don’t think I’ve ever run more than two races – a Truck and Xfinity race – in more than one weekend. At this point, I’m feeling fine, but I can definitely feeling it coming on. I’ll be worn out tonight.”
Jones felt that way due to being JGR’s choice to once again fill in for an unavailable Sprint Cup driver.
First there was completing Denny Hamlin‘s race at Bristol Motor Speedway in April. Then Jones substituted for Kyle Busch at Kansas Speedway while Busch recovered from injuries. That effort ended with Jones spinning and finishing 25 laps down. In both cases, Jones was unable to complete every lap.
That changed Sunday. Jones completed all 334 laps. That was despite having a blown tire in the middle of the race, a common theme throughout the field.
“I wish we could have been a little stronger there at the end,” Jones said. “We had that right front go down and it tore the nose up pretty good, so kind of took us out of a shot at a top-10. To still come home 12th is a good day for us. We worked hard all day to really keep the thing balanced and good and strong.”
The weekend and Jones’ opportunity to build a bond with crew chief Jason Ratcliff was complicated when a wet track canceled two practice sessions Saturday. That meant Jones entered Sunday with only the one hour and 25 minute practice session from Friday.
“I think over the day we learned more and more about each other,” Jones said. “Over the day, (I was) just getting a feel for Jason’s communication and what I was trying to relay to him to get the response I wanted on adjustments and it definitely evolved throughout the day.”
Jones ran as high as sixth, but his average running spot was 12th.
Between his three Sprint Cup races, Jones has discovered what more he needs to do.
“If you have any mistake like we did with the right front, it really takes you out of any shot you have to run well,” Jones said. “Just staying in it and staying out front, that’s the biggest thing you need to do.”
Jones didn’t know he would be attempting a tripleheader until Thursday afternoon when Kenseth’s final appeal was denied.
Then began the marathon weekend of competing in the Camping World Truck Series, the Xfinity Series and the Sprint Cup race.
“When everything came up this week, I said ‘Man, you’re going to have a full plate,'” said team owner Joe Gibbs. “We couldn’t be prouder of him … I think he’s special.”
Jones won the Truck race – his third of the year – and finished fourth in the Xfinity race at the track he earned his first series win at in April.
But prior to the his third Sprint Cup race, Jones opted not to pester Kenseth or even his Truck owner Kyle Busch for advice.
“I haven’t talked to Matt, I kind of let him take his weekend off,” Jones said. “I’d like to talk to him a little bit more about this style of racing and working with Jason and everything else.”
But before that talk and before his next three-race weekend at Phoenix, Jones looks toward Monday.
“I’ll take a nice day off tomorrow.”