BRISTOL, Tenn. — Erik Jones made a pivotal mistake leading up to Saturday night’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
He was one of six who forgot to choose their intro song prior to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
“I don’t even know who picked my song,” Jones said.
The Furniture Row Racing driver can thank someone named “DJ Du” for stepping up.
As a result, Jones was “a little surprised” when he appeared at the top of a ramp in Turn 3 to be introduced as the pole-sitter for the night’s race. The sounds of DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” echoed throughout “Thunder Valley.”
“DJ Du” turned out not to be a prophet. But Jones did everything he could during the ensuing 500 laps to back up the song selection.
Making his 27th Cup start and his second at the .533-mile track, Jones led a career-high 260 laps. He matched wits with Kyle Busch, now a six-time Bristol winner, and Matt Kenseth, a four-time Bristol winner and the driver he’ll succeed in the No. 20.
The battle resulted in Jones finishing second, the best result of his Cup career.
Jones led nine times, swapping the lead with Busch, his former Camping World Truck Series owner, 10 times – three times in the last 139 laps.
Despite the lack of his first Cup trophy, Jones is confident it was the most fun he’s had to date in the Cup Series.
Though he’s only 21, the race reminded him of his good ol’ days driving modifieds.
“It takes you back to, you know, late model racing really more than anything,” Jones said. “You’re just on the gas. You’re not saving tires. You’re just hammer down and getting everything you can, which is a lot of fun. It’s hard on you as a driver, it wears you out, but you definitely have a lot of fun.”
Bristol, a track he’s won at twice in the Xfinity Series, reminds him of Winchester Speedway in Indiana, a .5-mile oval where he’s won three Winchester 400.
And he almost won like at Winchester.
Even Busch, who won all three Bristol races this week, thought it was Jones’ race to lose before he took the lead for good with 56 laps to go.
“He’s a phenomenal talent and a great race car driver,” said Busch, who first discovered Jones when he finished third to Jones in the 2012 Snowball Derby. “We knew that a long time ago. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing I found him or a bad thing I found him because one of these days I’m going to lose to him and I’m not going to be thrilled, but I’m still going to congratulate him.
“I thought today was actually going to be that day.”
Jones, who first experienced Cup action in 2015 when he relieved Denny Hamlin mid-race at Bristol, said leading a race for so long is a “burden,” especially for someone still figuring out how things work in the Cup Series.
“You’re letting all those guys be behind you get better and better and improve on their cars to gain up on you,” Jones said. “It’s hard to get your car better when you’re out front. You don’t really know what you need.”
If there was a burden, Jones said there was no pressure to win, even with a potential playoff spot waiting for him if he did visit victory lane.
With two races left in the regular season, he is 16th in the points standings but outside the 16-driver playoff grid.
“This was our best shot to win,” Jones said. “I was just actually really calm this week. I really had a sense we were going to run really well. … I feel really confident every time I come to Bristol. And, you know, kind of felt like we were going to be running up front, but just didn’t have enough.”
Saturday’s 500 laps left Jones the “most wore out” he’s been this season following a race, but he knows they’ll be instrumental when he finally gets to celebrate as Busch did Saturday night.
Said Jones: “You got to lose one to win one, right?”