Toyota Racing – Erik Jones
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Daytona Media Day – February 13, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones was made available to the media in Daytona:
ERIK JONES, No. 20 Sport Clips Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Were you surprised at how The Clash race played out?
“I was somewhat surprised. It was a cool day, so I didn’t think the racing was going to be too crazy with everybody’s cars driving really good. It was odd that the bottom could never really get rolling. I was surprised that everybody got on the top so quick so it will be interesting to see how the Daytona 500 plays out.”
Do you think the racing in the Duels will be similar to The Clash?
“It’s going to be another cool night. The cars are driving really good. They’re really locked in and we’re pretty close to wide open and we’re not having to do a lot of lifting so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar Duel race. But, hopefully we can do a little more moving around. We’re going to have to pick up a few spots from where we’re starting to get a really good starting spot in the 500 so we’ll see. It might be pretty close to the same.”
Do you feel other manufacturers have a bigger advantage with more entries in the Daytona 500?
“It’s tough. I was actually thinking about that in the Clash. I was looking at the field before we went green and I had a good view because we were starting dead last. I kind of got to see it all and Ford had almost half of the field and we had four cars. It is challenging. We have six Toyotas in the 500 so it’s challenging to get all six lined up and have a big advantage. It’s just a matter of having really good cars. That’s the only way to combat it is we have to have really good stuff, have our cars really fast and dialed in together and work on it in practice and try to make sure it happens in the 500 to combat it.”
Do you think the racing will be similar to the 2016 Daytona 500 when Denny Hamlin won with Toyota teammates helping each other out most of the race?
“I wasn’t in that race, but I remember watching it. It definitely I think changed superspeedway racing a little bit to where the manufacturers work together more, teams work together more and try to get better in a line and in a pack. Hopefully, I think our cars in this race have been better than they have in the last few superspeedway races so it might give us an opportunity to do something similar, but we’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Does Toyota have an advantage because it is easier to get less cars lined up together in the draft?
“It’s much easier to get us all lined up, it’s just a matter of making sure we’re fast enough with each other. Our four, five, six cars that we can get together. Obviously, the other manufacturers have to work pretty hard to get everyone together, but when they can they’re really fast. We’ll have to see how it all works out. At the end of the day, it’s a free-for-all in a lot of ways. Everybody is trying to win the race, and everybody is going for it, so I think that kind of goes out the window if it comes down to a late race restart.”
What is your favorite memory from competing in the Daytona 500?
“My first one I’ll never forget standing on pit road before the race and seeing the fly over and hearing the national anthem. It was a beautiful day, it was sunny, and the stands were packed. I remember everything about it. The memory I’ll never forget is my first 500, being there and being a part of it was a pretty special moment for me.”
What is your outlook for this season with your teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing?
“I think we’ve got a strong team. It’s a great group. Three really veteran guys and myself now is definitely the young guy in the group which is okay. It’s great to have three guys who have been around and really know what’s going on. I have a lot of information to lean on and learn from, which is a good opportunity for me to continue to better myself. I think we’ve got a great lineup. It’s going to be interesting with the rules change but driver-wise I think our talent in our group is in a really good spot.”
How much do you think Martin Truex Jr. brings to Joe Gibbs Racing?
“He brings a lot of good things. You can’t complain about having a guy like that — him and Cole (Pearn, crew chief) both. They’ve been at the top of their game even before they were really apart of JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Toyota they were really getting to that point. It’s going to be great to have them onboard. We’ve had them kind of onboard with the alliance, but they haven’t been in-house and working with the other teams full-time. I think it’s going to be an adjustment for Cole and Martin a little bit, but once we get in the fold and they can really get in the groove of things it’s going to be great for us.”
What could you tell Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin about Martin Truex Jr. that maybe they didn’t know?
“He’s super easy to work with. He’s a really laid back guy. He helped me a lot. Anytime I had a question he was more than happy to sit down and talk about it, especially the road courses. He’s a really good road course racer and I asked him a lot of questions between Sonoma and Watkins Glen and he sat down with me for probably 10 or 15 minutes at each place and went through the tracks and kind of how to run them. He’s going to be a valuable asset and has been for the last couple of years, but now having him totally in house I think is just going to be make it really that much better for all of us.”
Are Speedweeks challenging having so many races during a short period of time?
“The rules package has changed a little bit each time I’ve come. This is the first time it’s been consistent from the last one, but then we’re going to change it again so that makes it more challenging. But it is, you have so many different races. I’ve had the opportunity to run the Clash now the last couple years, which has been really good so you learn every time. It took me a long time to figure out superspeedway racing in the Cup Series because it’s really a lot different than the Xfinity level. It’s much more aggressive, it’s much more challenging so anytime you can get out there and learn and be around other cars and see what the guys who have been around it a long time do is a huge help. But it is tough. You race the Duels at night, and you think you’ve got a good balance and you start the race on Sunday and it’s 75 or 80 degrees out so it’s hard to get your car handling right. We struggled with that the last couple of years is getting a good handle on our car and getting it to where we want it to be, so I think this year we’re probably in the best spot to kind of know how this transition is going to go.”
Where is the safest place to be in the draft?
“It’s been weird the last couple of years, at least for me I’ve seen a change. You see ‘The Big One’ five years ago happen right in the middle of the pack. You didn’t want to be running 10th to 15th because that’s where the big one was. Now, it’s like there’s really no safe spot because ‘The Big One’ seems to happen right at the front of the field. A lot of times the leader gets turned. We saw it in the July race, we saw it in the Clash. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in the 500 at least once. The blocking has become so aggressive, the moves have become so aggressive, the side drafting has become so aggressive. Everything is just – you’re trying to get every little bit and every little inch you can and that’s what causes wrecks. All 40 guys in the field on Sunday know what to do and how to defend those lanes and how to block. When you get 40 guys who all know how to do it, it’s going to cause a wreck at some point and it’s probably going to be upfront.”
How close does it feel when you’re actually in the pack superspeedway racing?
“It’s close. You’re looking in the mirror 85 percent of the lap if you’re leading and just trying to figure out where the runs are coming and your spotters are helping that, but at the end of the day you can only see so much. It kind of comes down to the driver being able to see which line is strong, which line is coming with the run and when and how aggressive you can be with that defense. You have to know as a driver when it’s too late to make that move. If you make it too late it’s just to the guy behind you to either give you a break or if he can’t it’s going to cause a big wreck. You don’t want to be the guy that causes the big wreck number one because you don’t want to be, and number two because it’s going to probably take you out too. It’s very close, it’s very tight. You don’t feel like you’re going that fast until you make that contact and you realize how fast everything is happening. The runs come quick and a lot of times it’s hard to stay with what’s going on.”
What would it mean to you to win the Daytona 500?
“It would be huge for me. The Coke Zero win for me was just huge just because it was my first Cup win, Daytona — everybody wants to win at Daytona. For me, the 500 race I’ve watched since I was four or five years old, as long as I can remember, and to win that race would be a huge moment. It’s hard to even really imagine. It’s the biggest race you can win in the Cup Series and it would be the biggest Cup win I’ve ever had in my career. It would be pretty awesome. A lot of friends and family here to celebrate with and definitely going to be a moment that would top my career to this point for sure.”
What do you remember about your win here in July that stands out to you?
“That it was a weird race. It wasn’t a race that I thought we were going to win at all and that was the thing that stands out to me, because we were a lap down until almost 25 laps to go and then all of a sudden to get back on the lead lap. We had a lot of damage and to see things work out and all of a sudden we were second place on a green-white checkered and we got the right pushes and it all worked out. That’s the thing I remembered. It’s just an odd race, for us especially. We weren’t really in it at all and then we were there and just kind of ready to take advantage when it mattered. That’s the thing that stands out most to me. It was a race that I never really thought we were going to have a shot to win.”
Do you remember toward the end of the race what you were able to do to get the win?
“I remember it was the move to split the 95 (Kasey Kahne) on the backstretch. I remember getting a huge run and thinking – I remember so many other plate races in my career not only in the Cup Series but Trucks or Xfinity where you have that big run and you have to make that decision whether you’re going to push the guy ahead of you or you’re going to try to pass him and I thought you might has well go for it at this point. We were coming to the white flag and it’s time to make that aggressive move, that big move. It’s either going to work out and you’re going to take the lead or you’re going to go to last and that’s where you’re going to end up. Fortunately, it worked out. I remember going through – that was probably a whole half second that whole process happening in my mind, but I remember it well.”
How tough is superspeedway racing?
“It’s really tough. Every year is different, and the rules packages have changed a lot. There are guys that seem to kind of figure plate racing out. Some teams get stronger and some teams get weaker and sometimes it’s the luck of the draw. So, you never really know what’s going to happen. You seem to see the good guys upfront a lot. You see Denny (Hamlin) up there and others. It’s very tough. You feel like you know the plan and you know what to do and I feel like in the Clash I feel like I had a plan and it just didn’t formulate and it never came together, and it never worked out. It’s tough each time you go to try and come up with something that you think is going to work, but it seems like every time the race gets going it kind of gets thrown out and as long as you can make it to the end of the race and be there on that last restart, that last charge, up in the top-10 you’re going to have a good shot at it.”
Do you have a regular weekly routine?
“I try. Used to be more on the fly because in Truck and Xfinity it was like you had an abundance of time and now in the Cup Series there’s really not. Your time is – I tell people all of the time I’m time poor. I just never have the time to do all of the things that need to get done. I try to schedule days off and getting to the gym and working out and time to see friends and family. I try to get that in the calendar. When I feel like I need a break I make sure to communicate it. That’s one thing I was never good at. I would just keep going and going until I couldn’t go anymore and then you’re worn out and you can’t do anything. Any time I feel like I’m getting to that point I just try to let everyone, ‘Hey, just give me a day to chill out.’ That’s been good the last year or so.”
Do you feel more confident coming back to Daytona as the most recent race winner at this track?
“Yeah. You have way more confidence coming back any time to a track that you’ve won at before. Superspeedway racing for me was something that I didn’t have any experience on coming in and I’ve only got to the point here in the last year where I feel pretty comfortable with it. So, I feel really good about coming back to a superspeedway finally knowing that we finally did win one and not only that, but we finally won a race in the Cup Series. All of that together feels great and definitely pumps your confidence up and for me I’ve been really excited to get the 500 going knowing that we have got it done here and know how to do it.”