NASCAR drivers rarely get a weekend off, so Erik Jones was happy to have the opportunity to come to his home state of Michigan and spend the Easter weekend with his family and friends.
In fact, it’s his first weekend off since the Daytona 500, two months ago.
Jones returned home near Flint on Monday and plans to attend the Pistons’ playoff against the Bucks on Saturday night at Little Caesars Arena.
No doubt, the 22-year-old Jones, a Byron, Mich., native, is one of the rising stars in NASCAR’s premier series, winning his first career race last year during the summer race at Daytona to earn one of the 16 spots for the playoffs, the final 10 races for the series championship.
Jones finished third in the Daytona 500 this year and fourth at Texas and sits 17th in points through nine races or a quarter of the season. He is still looking for his first win of the season in his No. 20 Toyota Camry while competing for one of the top teams, Joe Gibbs Racing where his teammates are Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and former series champions Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
“It’s been a good season overall,” said Jones, who is in his second season with JGR. “We’ve had fast cars and we’ve led laps. We just haven’t been able to capitalize on those days. I felt like Texas and Bristol we had cars that could have won the race and could have contended for wins. We just made too many mistakes and put ourselves behind all day.
“It’s encouraging to know that we have cars that are fast and obviously capable of winning between our teammates and we just need to put it all together on our end and finish these races out.”
Yes, JGR drivers have more wins (six) than any other team with Busch owning a series-high three, Hamlin two and Truex, one.
“It’s nice to have guys who are veterans on your team,” Jones said, pointing out he was teammates with Truex two years ago at Furniture Row when Truex won the series championship. “It gives you a lot of information to lean on and makes the whole team better. It’s always nice to have those guys around and leads us on the right path.”
So, how much more comfortable is Jones in his second year at JGR? And, how much more confidence does he have after winning his first race last year?
“I’m a lot more comfortable this year being over there and knowing the process,” Jones said. “It was very similar to Furniture Row over at Joe Gibbs Racing, but it’s still getting to know everybody and knowing what everybody does and who to go to for what, and now with all kind of knowing that and knowing how to go about things makes it easier.
“The win last year was definitely big, nice to kind of get it off your back and get that out of the way. We know we can do it and we just have to put the whole day together. Yes, there’s a lot of good things going our way, our direction and I think we’re going to continue to work on and improve on.”
Jones said that short tracks are his strength, but he’s also having better results on 1.5-mile tracks. The series moves on to the restrictor-plate race, similar to Daytona, next weekend at Talladega.
“The restrictor races are something that I feel that I’ve gotten a lot better on during the last few years,” Jones said. “It’s something that I really struggled with at the start of my career because I had never done it and wasn’t really sure about the best way to go about it. That’s something that I feel like I’ve improved on quite a bit and have taken advantage of to get some good finishes like the win at Daytona.”
Jones feels that the racing at Michigan International Speedway’s two-mile superspeedway (June 9 and August 11) will be the fastest place in the series with the new rules package — which showcases a new aerodynamics package that reduces horsepower and slows down cars — resulting in drafting and having drivers pull out to try and make big moves.
“I enjoy it a lot, it’s definitely a place I’d love to win at,” Jones said of MIS. “It’s my home track in NASCAR for sure and the cool thing for me is just having so many friends and family come out and support me."
And, on his rare weekend off?
“I don’t have many weeks where we don’t really have anything going on,” Jones said. “It’s nice to be able to take some time off and go home and see some friends and family, catch up on things. I got back home Monday night and I’ll be here through the weekend, plan on going to the Pistons game Saturday night, hopefully see a win.
“I’m a big fan of all Detroit teams. I live in Charlotte now, but Michigan still feels like home to me. I’ve been living in Charlotte since 2014 full-time, moved down there for racing and have been there ever since. I went to the Panthers game when they played the Lions, had a lot of fun.”