Erik Jones: Back in Familiar Territory
Erik Jones’ 2015 season has included many firsts. His first full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ride, his first visit to many tracks and, most notably, his first start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
This weekend, Jones is back in familiar territory competing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series 3M 250 at Iowa Speedway in Newton. While Sunday’s race marks his first XFINITY start at the 7/8-mile tri-oval, he has never finished outside the top-10 in three Truck Series races, highlighted by a win last season and runner-up finish in 2013.
During Jones’ last visit to Iowa Speedway, he piloted the No. 51 ToyotaCare Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM), the team he’s competing full-time with in the Truck Series this season.
Jones had the best truck for the majority of the race, but fellow competitor Ryan Blaney caught up with him near the end. The pair raced side by side throughout the last 16 laps until Jones edged Blaney to earn his second career Truck Series win.
When Jones returns to Iowa this weekend for his 13th career XFINITY Series race, he brings an impressive resume in the series with one win, three pole awards and five top-five finishes in all. He’ll also have longtime Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) sponsor Interstate Batteries and its Interstate All Battery Center retail stores on his No. 20 Toyota Camry. Two Interstate All Battery Center stores are located just down the road in the Des Moines area, along with the nearby All Battery Center North American distribution center for all 220 stores located in Urbandale.
With Jones’ impressive racing resume, the Texas-based company’s tagline “Outrageously Dependable” is a perfect fit for the 18-year-old driver.
Prior to Jones’ last XFINITY race, which was cut short due to an accident and later engine failure at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, he posted his five top-fives in the series in consecutive fashion, including his first career win at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Jones led six times for a total of 79 laps during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas and was able to hold off Sprint Cup regulars Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win. Jones’ most challenging test came when the race restarted with 26 laps to go. Choosing the inside line on the restart, the rookie had a very fervent Keselowski and Earnhardt Jr. trailing on the high line.
Holding strong on the bottom, Jones was able to clear Keselowski and Earnhardt off turn two with 25 laps to go and never looked back. At 18 years, 10 months and 11 days, Jones became the second-youngest winner at Texas behind Chase Elliott.
Jones is hopeful that his experience, paired with JGR’s winning history at Iowa with a 2014 victory there by Sam Hornish Jr. and a 2010 win by Kyle Busch, will produce another successful result this weekend.
Erik Jones, Driver of the No. 20 Interstate All Battery Center NASCAR XFINITY Series Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Do you feel more confident heading into Iowa knowing you’ve won at this track, and are you excited to have Interstate Batteries back on board for another NASCAR XFINITY Series race?
“Anytime you go back to a place where you’ve won or had success, it gives you a little bit more confidence. With the XFINITY Series, I feel like we’ve had pretty good speed on the short tracks, so this race will hopefully be one that falls in our wheelhouse. It’ll be cool to have Interstate Batteries back on the car for the second time this year. We’re all really thankful for them for letting us go run this race, so it should be fun.”
You’ve never finished outside of the top-10 at Iowa Speedway. What have you learned during your previous starts, and what do you think the key is to a successful finish?
“Iowa is an interesting track just from the sense that it really works all parts of your race team. It’s got a strong, short-track feel, but it’s got a little bit of a big-track aero feel. We work on a lot of things during practice, mostly just getting through turns one and two good and being able to power through there. It’s a day race, so it’s going to be a little different than what I’m used to in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Joe Gibbs Racing won this race at Iowa last year, so hopefully we can use some of their notes and pick up a few things.”
This weekend at Iowa Speedway marks just your 13th start in the XFINITY Series and you’ve already earned a win, three poles and five top-fives. Why do you think the transition into this series has been so smooth for you?
“I think it has a lot to do with the team at Joe Gibbs Racing and the program we’ve had over there. We’ve gotten a lot better on that side of things from last year. We had fast cars last year, but just not up to the level of some of the other teams. We’ve got good Camrys this year – we’ve had fast ones every time we get to the racetrack. Every week, we’ve unloaded fairly close to where we need to be, so that’s allowed us to test some things that maybe we wouldn’t have had time to do if we were a little farther off. It’s been nice to have such fast racecars and it’s definitely nice for the driver to know you’ve got a shot to win.”