On Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Erik Jones checked off another box on his resume – road course race winner.
Starting from the second spot, Jones ran up front throughout the race, getting by Cole Custer on a late race restart to take the lead. He then held off Alex Tagliani in the closing laps to score the victory.
“I knew we had to clear him (Alex Tagliani) in (turn) one and if we didn’t clear him in one that (turns) two and three were going to be tough and he was obviously wanting to win bad,” Jones noted. “We raced hard and hopefully we put on a good show. It was fun to be out there and have him chase you down. It’s nerve-wracking and you’re doing all you can and wondering how he’s finding speed in some corners and you’re not. It’s just cool to see it play out like that and get the lead real late and be able to hold it off and bring home the win.”
Crew chief Rudy Fugle admits the team played a conservative strategy with the points situation but felt that they would have a shot based on the speed they had shown.
“We were right there with the 29 (Alex Tagliani) and depending on how things worked out, I knew we’d have a shot and the 00 (Cole Custer) was faster today than I thought he was going to be, so we had to deal with him. It all worked out and this is a great win up here,” he added.
Jones came into the event as one of the early race favorites as he has been strong at each track this year, but also finished third last year. He credited the team on the victory with bringing a good piece, noting that this was the same truck from last year, but just improved. Fugle noted that it starts with Toyota and Toyota Racing Development giving them the support and tools that they need.
“These races are won back at the shop and then once we get here, we see how things are going,” Fugle explained. “I have a strategy and the team comes up with a strategy with my engineer and stuff and you just keep getting – you learn more, you learn what your fuel mileage is, you learn how the tires wear and you just take a guess at it and then there’s still a little bit of feel, you know? We almost missed the first pit stop with the caution coming out right when it did – it could have been way worse. It just worked out perfect where we didn’t get hurt. Some of that is just that race feel and experience and the difference there, but it’s definitely won at the shop –everybody back there and everybody back at Toyota.”
Jones has also worked at perfecting his road course craft, going to the Ron Fellows School last year, and the Bondurant School this year.
“I saw it as if, ‘Hey, if I can get a tenth each time I go to those schools, it’s worth it,’ and I feel like I did,” he commented. “Just kind of put all that together and came here for the first year and downloaded everything and tried to get a little bit better for this year and figure out where I needed to better and where I needed to improve and just kind of figured it out as I went I guess and it’s just fun. I just always enjoyed it from the start. It wasn’t something I went out and did and was like, ‘Oh, man, I don’t like this at all,’ so it’s just something that always was fun for me and I wanted to get good at.”
For Jones, it marks his second win of the season and hands him the points lead, three points ahead of Matt Crafton. With knowledge that he will be moving up to the XFINITY Series next year with Joe Gibbs Racing, certainly scoring a truck championship before he moves up the ladder is high on the list.