ERIK JONES, No. 4 Toyota Tundra, Kyle Busch Motorsports
Are you looking forward to your first NCWTS race at your home track of Michigan?
“I stayed in my own house last night and I’ll stay there tonight, it’s only an hour-and-a-half down the road for me. Pretty cool to be making my first start here at a place I’ve wanted to run at for a long time. Not only myself who has watched a lot of races here, but my whole family – from my grandparents, to my parents – it’s just a pretty special place for me. It’s exciting anytime you get to a new track, but especially when it’s your home track that you grow up so close to. I’m excited about all the friends and family that are going to be here and hopefully put on a good show for them.”
How do you prepare for tracks that you haven’t been to before?
“I don’t do a lot of the simulator stuff. I don’t think it’s close enough. I watch a lot of videos of past races as much as I can and check out what people did last year and who was the guy that won – why did he do that and what got him up front. Basically that kind of thing. I watched last year and if I have time, the year before and just see what the guys that were fast, what they did differently than everybody and just see if I can get a general idea of line and if the line moved around throughout the day. Obviously here, we’re pretty much wide-open around the track so it’s a pretty big drafting situation for us. It was interesting to see that and see how it played out. I think you can pick a few things up from watching some of the guys and see how to manipulate the draft a little bit better.”
How often did you come to Michigan International Speedway growing up?
“Not every summer, but I think I was here a couple times growing up. Honestly we couldn’t make it every summer because I was racing a lot of the time, quarter-midgets at the time. It was the place we’d come to a few times and watch races. That home track feel I think for any driver or in any sport really, when they get to go home and playing for their hometown fans, that’s really the same feel here. Every driver looks forward to getting to their home track, especially at this level where in the NASCAR series, obviously I’ve raced at a lot of short tracks around my home and been able to win at those, it’s just a little different feel when you come to a place like this and you’re at home and racing in front of people. Kind of a place for me growing up that you watch and always looked at as, ‘I hope I get the chance to race there one day.’ And this was one that was pretty high on my list of just getting to run at.”
Was Jeff Gordon on of your racing heroes and what do you think of him making his final Michigan start?
“For me, really Jeff (Gordon) was the guy I looked up to growing up and tried to model myself after a little bit. My career path, I looked at him when he started racing quarter-midgets at seven and that made me want to start racing quarter-midgets at seven just from seeing that. I’d say, for me it was always Jeff and seeing him race and seeing him retire – it’s kind of odd. Obviously I didn’t see Jeff from the very beginning of his career, but I saw most of it and it’s just a little bit strange for our sport. It’s going to be weird without him out there next year. At some point everybody has to retire and I have a lot of respect for him to want to retire at this point in his career when he’s still competitive and can still win races. It’s not easy for any athlete to go out when they are still on the top of their game and the fact that he’s been able to make that choice and do it is pretty cool. An athlete can go out and they’re still performing at a high level.”
Do you feel pressure to perform well at your home track in front of your hometown crowd?
“I don’t think there is any extra pressure. I think it’s more of I’d really like to win just because everyone is here. I think it’s just pretty cool that everyone is here. I’ve had to give out more hot passes and get tickets for more people – way more than any other track. It’s just nice to have all these people here supporting you. They watch on TV and it’s nice when they can get out to a race and see it in person. It’s just another feel for them. Obviously they went to a lot of short track races growing up, but it’s harder to get to some of these NASCAR races at the locations they are. They don’t get to many, so when they get a chance to go when we’re this close to home, it’s cool to see them down in the pits.”
What did Kyle Busch say to you when you beat him in the Snowball Derby a few years ago?
“I can remember it pretty well. Obviously it is a vivid memory for me, really kind of congratulated me and talked about the race. At that point I wasn’t thinking about implications of what would happen after and if I’d get an opportunity at that point in the Truck Series. I was just excited that I won that race in its own right, but that I ran with Kyle (Busch) for it. It was pretty cool to see him in victory lane and hear from him, talk about the race. As hard as we raced, and as clean as we raced, it is always cool when you get to talk with a driver about that. I think any driver really loves to see a good hard, clean race and that day, that’s what we had.”
How do you feel knowing Kyle Busch is going to be racing against you in the NCWTS or NXS races?
“I think we all, as a team collectively like it. It’s kind of a good benchmark for us to see where we really are and see where our whole program is. Anytime Kyle (Busch) is in a race, we get excited to have the chance to run the race with Kyle. Not only myself, but the rest of the field gets excited to race against Kyle as well. We had a fun time at Pocono for a lot of the race going back and forth and hopefully here we’ll be able to do the same thing if we have a fast enough truck to keep up with him. That’s the only thing you hope you can keep up with him because if you don’t, he’s going to say his stuff is faster and you’re not giving it your all. It’s just fun to race him and it’s really good for us as a whole team when he can get in and really show us where our stuff is.”
Do you have any plans to run additional Cup races this season?
“Not this year. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) is working on a lot of things, a lot of things I honestly don’t know. I’m kind of waiting to see how the rest of the year progresses. I do know that I’ll be racing XFINITY next year, but I don’t know sponsor, number or any kind of information like that. No plans this year, but I hope I get another shot soon. It was fun.”
How do you contend with a proven champion like Matt Crafton?
“It’s not easy. At the beginning of the year, I thought we would have been on sheer speed good enough to beat him (Matt Crafton) on the track. Unfortunately as the year has went on with mishaps and things, and not going our way, we’ve had the speed but not really the finishes and he’s so consistent every week that those poor finishes or mistakes are amplified, especially in a points situation. I think the biggest thing for us now is kind of maximizing our bad days than our good days. We have really good stuff and we’re able to go out and run out front, but on those days when we aren’t any good, we have to go out and make sure we don’t make any mistakes and are in a place like Eldora – we did a really good job of being there and being consistent at the end of the race where we finished ahead of the 88 (Matt Crafton). Any week we can finish ahead of him, that’s obviously a good points week for us. That’s the biggest thing, some weekends it’s not going to be there to win as much as we’d love to win, it’s just not going to play out and we need to make the best of those days it’s not going to play out.”
Anything special you get to be able to do since you’re home this weekend for the race?
“I was home, actually I went home last Tuesday. I had last weekend off, I wasn’t in Watkins Glen and spent the whole time at home. I went and hung out with friends and did some go karting, some golf and it was nice. Nice to be home, nice to have a week off and nice to kind of sit back and relax and get a little bit of sleep and get ready for this weekend.”