Erik Jones: ‘I just continue to try and build’ with Petty team

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At age 24, Erik Jones is already in his fifth season of full-time NASCAR Cup Series racing. He’s also in his ninth season of competing in NASCAR national series races altogether.

Until he joined Richard Petty Motorsports this season, that time was spent on elite-level teams: First, Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series, where he won a title in 2015; then, inside the Joe Gibbs Racing umbrella for Xfinity and, eventually, his first four Cup seasons.

Along with gaining valuable experience, Jones developed a maturity that not all young drivers have. It’s what his new crew chief, Jerry Baxter, said he was surprised by during their first races together – until he remembers the thousands of laps Jones already has under his belt.

“I feel like I have a wealth of information,” Jones said Monday in a media teleconference, one day after posting a season-best finish of ninth on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I’ve been in a lot of different series, a lot of different rules packages, and a lot of different things through every series. I think that helps a lot.

“When you go to a new organization, you take pieces of what you’ve learned through the years. You know what succeeds, you know what works and what excels. I was fortunate to win a few races over at JGR, so bringing that (experience) – I think was a good piece of the puzzle to bring over to RPM.”

After seven races, Jones sits 22nd in the Cup standings. He was 37th after the season-opening Daytona 500 after he was eliminated in a 16-car crash on Lap 14.

He recovered from an early pit stop under green for a flat tire to salvage 14th at the Daytona road course and logged his first top 10 with RPM at Las Vegas (10th). Outings at other mile-and-a-half tracks were tougher: A 27th-place finish at Miami, 24th at Atlanta.

While the results have been up and down, Jones is committed to helping RPM get stronger.

“I just continue to try and build with them,” he said. “I think they’ve been doing a great job the last few years to really step in the right direction, and I wanted to come in and help them continue to take those steps.

“We just want to see continued improvement, and I’m doing everything I can as a driver to help that.”

Jones is also doing everything he can with his platform to raise awareness about distracted driving.

Alongside RPM team partner BASF, Jones is helping the National Auto Body Council educate those on the road during National Distracted Driving Month in April.

Road cars come with many potential distractions that can take a driver’s eye off the road, from checking your phone for texts to flipping through the radio. The NABC’s initiative looks to drive home that even a split second’s attention away from the road can lead to devastating consequences.

“Sometimes, you don’t realize how fast you’re moving down the road … And sometimes, you get a little lost looking at something else instead of checking on the road,” Jones said. “A lot can happen in a pretty short amount of time.”

Jones will be a key part of the initiative during April, particularly on social media, where he’ll share tips to help motorists guard against distracted driving.