Erik Jones: All in a Year
A lot can change in a year. Just ask Erik Jones.
One year ago, the young racing prodigy had just launched a NASCAR Xfinity Series campaign that, by design, was meant to serve as a supplement to his full-time efforts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. By season’s end, however, Jones had not only captured the Truck Series championship, he also solidified himself as a legitimate championship contender in Xfinity Series competition by way of two wins in just 23 starts in NASCAR’s second-tier touring series.
In addition to the trail he blazed in both the Xfinity and Truck series, the Byron, Michigan native also managed to make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut, competing in a total of three races in 2015 and earning a career-best 12th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth last fall.
While change has littered the last 12 months of Jones’ racing career, he goes into this weekend’s Boyd Gaming 300 Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with at least one holdover from 2015 – he will once again pilot the colors of Interstate Batteries on his No. 20 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR).
As the founding partner and “Official Battery of JGR,” Interstate Batteries has been powering the team for 25 years, and this weekend’s races in Las Vegas will be the first of several events planned to celebrate the milestone. A trip to victory lane would be the best way to kick off Intestate Batteries’ silver anniversary, and it just so happens winning at Las Vegas is something with which Jones is fairly well acquainted.
Included in Jones’ seven career victories in Truck Series competition is a 2014 win at Las Vegas. Driving the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra that year, Jones started 13th and ran a patient race, methodically making his way through the field and positioning himself to take over the top spot in the closing laps. Jones raced to the lead with just 14 laps to go and scored what was then his third win in just 14 Truck Series starts.
It was a successful outing that Jones nearly duplicated just one year later during his first Las Vegas start in the Xfinity Series. After starting third and getting shuffled through the field during the early stages of the race, the tenacious driver relied on his talent and instinct to not only make up what was lost but also to race his way to the lead. In total, Jones led twice for a seven laps and was running second when he was collected in an accident that relegated him to a 29th-place finish.
— Joe Gibbs Racing (@JoeGibbsRacing) March 2, 2016
While it wasn’t the desired result, it was an effort that helped to solidify Jones’ foundation in Xfinity Series competition. During his next 20 starts, Jones scored a total of 17 top-10 finishes, including a pair of wins at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois – both of which fall into the same intermediate-track designation that defines Las Vegas.
In select situations, the winds of change can wreak havoc. For Jones, however, change has equated to a championship in one of NASCAR’s top three series at the age of 19 and the opportunity for more. A lot can change in a year and, for his part, Jones hopes part of that change is another championship in another series.
Erik Jones, Driver of the No. 20 Interstate Batteries NASCAR Xfinity Series Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are your expectations headed back to Las Vegas with so much more experience than you had a year ago?
“I think we’re looking forward to getting back to Vegas since it’s more of a traditional mile-and-a-half. Last year, we had the speed and thought we had a really good shot at the win, but we didn’t end up making it to the end of the race with our Interstate Batteries Camry. We’re just ready to get back there because I think the 1.5-mile tracks will really be our strength this year and the type of places where we can pick up some wins along the way.”
Is Las Vegas more representative of the type of racing we’ll see on a majority of the 1.5-mile ovals, as opposed to Atlanta this past weekend?
“I think so, much more than Atlanta will. Las Vegas is much more like a lot of the 1.5-milers and I think it will be a really good test for us to see where our program is on those types of tracks. That’s going to be a really good test for our team. Just knowing how good we were on those tracks the last half of last year gets me really excited for what could be ahead for us this weekend.”
What does it mean to carry the Interstate Batteries colors this weekend?
“I’m really proud to have Interstate Batteries back on our car there in Las Vegas. Joe Gibbs Racing and Interstate are celebrating 25 years together this year. They’ve been racing together longer than I’ve been alive, but I know how important the company is to JGR and I would love nothing more than to get them a win in their first time on one of our cars this year.”