Detroit News motor sports reporter Gregg Krupa talks to NASCAR driver Erik Jones of Byron, Michigan about the FireKeepers 400 at MIS on Sunday. Detroit News
When NASCAR drivers finally stopped wrecking each other at Daytona and the smoke cleared, the calls, texts, emails and direct tweets started arriving from Byron, Mich., in Shiawassee County, on the phone of Erik Jones.
And one phone call, of considerable importance and great significance, went from victory lane in Daytona Beach, Fla., back to Michigan on Saturday.
Jones, a 22-year-old son of the state, resident of Byron and graduate of the Swartz Creek Academy four years ago, won his first NASCAR Cup race in the most famous venue of the sport: Daytona International Speedway.
“That Jones Boy” prevailed in a form of racing, with restrictor plates controlling top speeds on a superspeedway, that is not his strong suit.
He outdueled the reigning Cup Series champ and his teammate from last season, Martin Truex Jr., coming down the backstretch on the final lap.
Some folks around Michigan got excited about it, and those who know Jones let him know.
“It was really cool to hear from everybody back home that was always a part of it, and to know that they were all watching,” Jones said. “It was real exciting, for me. It was cool to see the support.
“I think everyone was pretty pumped up back home.”
Jones won the crash-saturated Coke Zero Sugar 400 for his first victory in 57 cup races, after a brilliant, unprecedented start to his NASCAR career.
He is the only rookie of the year in all three series sanctioned by the racing association: Trucks, Xfinity and Cup.
He won the 2015 Truck Series championship.
Winning at Daytona while qualifying for the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is a huge signpost in a racing career of enormous potential.
But someone who usually is there with him, while he races, happened to miss his first win. His mom, Carol.
She received her son’s call from victory lane.
Athletes rarely receive victor’s laurels without a lot of support, heaping resources of treasure and time, from family.
“It was cool to call up and talk to her after the race,” Jones said. “Obviously, I wanted her to be there and to be part of it. It was a lot of sacrifice to get to this point.
“It’s a lot of hard work, from the start of racing in go-karts all the way up to street stocks and late models, and on to NASCAR.”
It was some race.
Jones led just one lap, the most important one. The last one.
Only 20 of the 40 starters finished, and just 13 on the lead lap.
“The Big One,” a proverbial, major incident in which many cars wreck at high speeds in a restrictor plate race at one of the superspeedways on the NASCAR circuit, happened on lap 53.
In moments, all 20 cars running in front of Jones were in utter disarray — spinning, skidding, smacking the wall, throwing sparks, catching fire, ripping up the infield grass.
A total of 25 cars, all but 15 in the field, were involved.
He hugged the flat apron, along the infield border, bottoming out and showering sparks. But, he made it through.
“It was wild,” Jones said. “For the most part, the early part of the race, we were just kind of laying back and trying to stay out of the trouble.
“We worked our way up to the front and actually got caught in a wreck there between the 18 (Kyle Busch) and the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.), got some damage from that and, unfortunately, we went down a lap.”
Working feverishly along pit lane, under the yellow flag, the Joe Gibbs Racing crew used 5:15 of the six minutes NASCAR allows for body work.
And they gave Jones a car that could win.
“It took us a while to get back on the lead lap,” he said. “And, once we finally did, we just started picking our way through the field.
“At the end, we had a start at the front row and had a shot to go out and win it.”
Pressure is on some of the young drivers in NASCAR to stake their claim in the sport. But it has a been a showcase year, so far, for veteran drivers in a motorsports series desperate for media stars to replace the retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.
So, expectations were even higher for the heralded young driver from Michigan than the Truck Series championship and rookie of the year awards suggested.
That his first win took 57 races may have disappointed some, but folks had supercharged his prospects.
“Whenever you can go out and win a race, it solves a lot of problems,” Jones said. “It definitely helps out.
“To go out and make that happen at Daytona, it definitely makes you feel a little bit better at the end of the day
“I never thought my first Cup win would be at a superspeedway, for sure.”
Neither did his crew chief, Chris Gayle, who expected the first one to come at a smaller track.
“I’m even really expecting bigger things from him now,” Gayle said after the win. “You get a little confidence in him, we all know what we can do. At this level, it helps you when get your first win.
“Everyone with the team knows that.”
Jones will race at the Kentucky and New Hampshire Motor speedways, the Pocono Raceway and Watkins Glen International before returning to the Michigan International Speedway for the Consumers Energy 400 on Aug. 12.
“We’re in the playoffs now,” Jones said. “So, really, these next nine weeks we’ll go chase after some stage points and some playoff points.
“You try to give yourself a little buffer with the points, once the playoffs get going, to make sure we advance into the next few rounds.
“We’ve got us some good momentum here before the playoffs start.”
Consumers Energy 400
When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12
Where: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.
Support race: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Corrigan Oil 200, 1 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 11