Ypsilanti – Erik Jones wants what his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have – a 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR series win.
Jones, a 23-year-old native of Byron, Michigan, is coming to his home track this weekend to compete in the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Jones visited the Kalitta Motorsports shop on Thursday and fired up an NHRA top fuel drag racing car.
“It’s a really cool experience,” said Jones. “Drag racing is something I’ve been a fan of for a long time. My family was actually into drag racing when I was younger. My grandfather used to race at Martin (Dragway) as a hobby, so it’s really neat for me to get to see it up close and personal.”
Jones has gone winless this season. He is looking for his first win since Daytona last July.
While Jones has gone winless in his second year with JGR – he finished 15th in the playoffs last year – he has enjoyed a strong season in the No. 20 Toyota Camry, basically doing everything but get to Victory Lane.
Jones owns eight top-five finishes, coming into MIS off four straight top-five spots, including a third-place showing at Kentucky, followed by another third at New Hampshire, a second at Pocono and a fourth last Sunday on the road course at Watkins Glen.
“We’ve gotten to a point where we’ve found what works for us,” Jones said. “It’s been me not making mistakes, and it’s been the pit crew not making mistakes – haven’t had any penalties or loose wheels. The cars have been fast, and we’ve been able to take advantage.
“It’s been a great stretch. I’d sure love to have a couple of wins. It’s definitely nice to have things clicking, and to know that each week your effort is 100 percent and where it needs to be.”
After MIS there are just three races remaining before the playoffs start Sept. 15 in Las Vegas.
JGR drivers Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. top the charts with four wins apiece while JGR teammate Denny Hamlin has three wins, including the Daytona 500. Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski has three wins in the new Ford Mustang and his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano has reached Victory Lane twice, as has Chase Elliott in the Chevrolet Camaro for Hendrick Motorsports.
Logano is the defending series champion. He won the June race at MIS.
Kevin Harvick (Ford, Stewart-Haas), Kurt Busch (Chevrolet, Ganassi) and Alex Bowman (Chevrolet, Hendrick) also have wins, putting the number of drivers locked into the playoffs at nine.
Aric Almirola (640 points, Stewart-Haas), Ryan Blaney (633, Penske) and Jones are sitting strong in points for shots at getting into the playoffs. Jones (598) holds a 54-point lead over seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman, who are locked into a tie for 16th with 544 points. Kyle Larson (590, Ganassi) is 14th and Clint Bowyer (556, Stewart-Haas) 15th.
Jones plans on being a little more aggressive at MIS since he has a larger gap between himself and Johnson and Newman.
“Definitely the last month has been getting the best finish and getting as many stage points, but we finally have got to the point where we’ve built a nice gap, which feels great,” Jones said. “If we could get a couple more points here this week and get another great finish … obviously, a win would be awesome.
“I think the aggression is starting to rise back up. It’s hard to say you want to do much different when you’re running that well, but you can definitely be a little bit more aggressive on some pit calls and some strategy than what we have been. There’s been a couple of races where we’ve had to be conservative and it somewhat hurt our chances to win that day. We can ramp it back up now with that buffer.”
Jones’ best finish at MIS was third in the August race his rookie year with Furniture Row in 2017. His best finish since was 13th in the August race last year. He finished 31st in June.
Jones admits he gets a little nervous competing in his home state.
“I probably have been guilty of that at Michigan a couple of times, so just trying to relax and not doing anything different is probably the biggest part,” Jones said.
Jones is the first driver to win Rookie of the Year honors in all three NASCAR national series. He was the Camping World Truck series champion in 2015, then earned the Xfinity award in 2016, followed by Monster Energy honors in 2017.
Jones has been in contract negotiations with Gibbs, who recently signed Christopher Bell to an extension through 2020, though it is uncertain whether Bell will remain in Xfinity or move up to the premier Monster Energy series.
“It’s very close, I can finally say that,” said Jones of his contract talks with Gibbs. “In the next couple of weeks I would be surprised if we didn’t have something done.”
MIS race weekend
NASCAR TRUCK SERIES
CORRIGAN OIL 200
Schedule: Friday, practice, 1:35 and 3:05 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 9:35 a.m. (FS2), race, 1 p.m. (FS1).
Race distance: 200 miles, 100 laps.
2018 winner: Brett Moffitt
NASCAR CUP SERIES
CONSUMERS ENERGY 400
Schedule: Friday, practice, 12:35 p.m. (NBCSN), qualifying, 5:05 p.m. (NBCSN); Saturday, practice, 8:35 and 11:30 a.m.; Sunday, race, 3 p.m. (NBCSN).
Race distance: 400 miles, 200 laps.
2018 winner: Kevin Harvick