Toyota Racing – Erik Jones
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Talladega Superspeedway – April 26, 2019
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones was made available to the media in Talladega:
ERIK JONES, No. 20 Stanley Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Can you talk about the sensation you felt during the first practice session?
“It feels really fast, but you look at the speeds and look at the times and actually the fastest car wasn’t even as fast as we were here last year. I think it’s a matter of just working on the stuff and getting it driving better. I think we missed it a little bit this morning on our heights and some of the handling stuff. I feel like we learned a lot for the next practice to get out Stanley Camry where it needs to be. It’s just different, a lot different from what we had.”
Is it different from what you expected?
“So far, yes. Our cars – I think we’re just missing a little bit handling-wise right now. I watched some of the other guys and they looked pretty stable. I think the cars are going to drive fairly easy compared to last year. We just need to get the balance there. The only thing, I thought we would have seen some tandem drafting pretty quickly. We haven’t seen that. It doesn’t look like guys can get that to work. I don’t know if that’s going to come in or not, but looks like a challenge right now.”
Would it be politically correct to go with another car that isn’t a Toyota teammate?
“At the end of the race I think we kind of go all for one at that point. You’re trying to win the race and we want one of our cars to win the race. Obviously, we would like to stay together – that’s our plan and that’s what we want to do and that’s what has worked at least since I’ve been around. There’s been times too where you have to work with other people. If there’s guys – you can’t always get lined up with your counterparts there with Toyota. We only have seven cars this weekend and that’s not a huge amount. It’s tough at times to keep it all together.”
Did the practice give you an idea of how the racing might look on Sunday?
“It’s just going to be crazy. It’s just going to be wild and it was already wild last year, but with as easy as these cars are going to be to drive in a pack and as fast as it’s going to be once everybody gets their stuff driving right and we get in a big pack, it’s going to be pretty wild. You can get really big runs. When I fell back and joined the pack, I was able to fall way back and get a big run to the pack so it’s going to make it pretty interesting.”
Where is your team compared to your other three teammates who have won races?
“I think speed-wise, we’re there. Bristol and Texas I felt like we had cars that could have won. Bristol we had a loose when that put us out of it, a couple loose wheels. Then Texas, strategy just didn’t work out at the end for us. I feel like we’re there, we just need to execute and work out some other issues that we have. Speed-wise and handling-wise, I feel like our cars are plenty capable. Going to Dover, I think we’ll be fast again and even this weekend we should have a good shot. We’re there, we just have some other issues to iron out.”
Does knowing you have the speed and just need to work on execution to get the win keep you from getting too worked up over not having a win yet this season?
“It does a little bit. It’s easy to get frustrated when you feel like you have cars that are capable of winning and you’re not doing it. For me, it is nice. When you have fast cars, it’s going to go your way eventually. If you have the speed and you have the car to do it, everything else will go along with that. With a good team like JGR, everybody is able to work together and put the pieces in that we need to have.”
Are things still in place to possibly work with the Chevrolet teams like Toyota did in Daytona?
“I don’t know yet. I haven’t heard anything this weekend as far as that goes. For right now, I think it’s just us Toyotas working together. I thought we had a good situation there in Daytona where we all helped each other and got a good finish out of it. I haven’t heard anything yet. I think it’s too early with this package yet. We need another practice here where everybody gets their stuff driving the way it needs to and we can go out and really learn about it. I don’t feel like we got a fair swing at learning what this package does yet, with our car at least so we need one more session.”
How did working together help at Daytona?
“For me, it didn’t matter at the end because we had so much other stuff happen. I think in the mid-part of the race, it was a big help. We were up front – when we had our first issue, we lost fuel pressure, but we were running third when that happened. I think that was due to just having more cars. Having more cars to help, the easier it makes your day. With six Toyotas, it can be challenging at times to battle the whole pack no matter how fast we are and we’re usually pretty fast in our group, but just sometimes not enough to combat the others.”
Why do you think we’ve seen fewer cautions this season?
“I don’t know, it’s tough to say. The cars right now definitely drive easier on the mile-and-a-halves than they have the last few years. Especially compared to the low downforce package. You can still get in some bad spots, it’s just easier to guard against them now than with what we had in the low downforce stuff. Guys just know, everybody’s gotten so good and so smart at this level that a lot of times guys aren’t going to put the competitors in a spot to know they’re going to wreck because it’s a potential for them to wreck too. Then guys are not going to put themselves in a situation where they can potentially cause a wreck. I think everybody has just learned what the limits are and they’re not going past them. The cars right now are not on edge by any stretch on mile-and-a-halves in a lot of situations. It doesn’t produce any kind of crashing in that sense.”
What does it mean when you say, ‘not on edge?’
“It’s not a Sunday drive by any means, but compared to, if you think back to the low downforce package, a lot of times you had to run the car either on the edge of the frontend of the edge of the rear-end and at times being free was good and it was fast. A lot of guys that were quick were very free. With the new package, you’re just so locked in. At Texas, when we took the lead, I was wide open and felt like I was running around here by myself. There wasn’t any sense – there was no off-throttle time. The off-throttle time, the braking, the steering input creates that on-edge feeling and when you don’t have that, it’s hard to get yourself in trouble. If you’re never coming all the way out of the gas, you’re usually pretty locked in.”
Is superspeedway a mental game as much as anything else?
“It is, I think superspeedway racing is. You look at it, if we’re running by ourselves, there’s no way around it and it’s pretty easy. Most of any of us that have driven a car before can run around here by ourselves, but when you get in the pack it’s really a different skill set. It’s unique to here and Daytona. You really have to go about the race a lot differently. It’s a very mental game and you’re not really fighting the car necessarily as much, but you’re fighting your competitors. As close as the racing is, you’re running 500 miles around here so close to each other at such a high rate of speed, you don’t want to be that guy that triggers a big wreck and you don’t want to be the guy that’s getting caught up in a big wreck. There’s a lot of things going through your mind just trying to keep yourself in the right position to have a shot to win. That’s where the real game comes in. It’s a mental game here at these tracks.”
How difficult is it to get to pit road at Talladega?
“It’s pretty tough actually. Getting on pit road under green flag conditions is an art in its own. I got caught up in a wreck here a couple years ago getting onto pit road. We weren’t pitting, but there were a lot of other guys that were pitting, and we were involved in it. It’s just tough. Everybody has to be on the same page. If there’s one or two guys that aren’t on the same page as everybody else and they’re staying out and everybody else is pitting, it’s probably going to cause a pretty big wreck. You get two lanes and if everybody can’t get to the bottom, those guys trying to pit from the middle and the outside lanes are when you get those problems. It’s tough, just getting slowed down by yourself and getting to pit road is hard here because you’re going so fast. You get small brakes here, we don’t run our normal intermediate brake package – they’re really small, specialized brakes and it just makes it tough to get slowed down.”