Toyota Racing – Erik Jones
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Watkins Glen International – August 3, 2019
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones was made available to the media in Watkins Glen:
ERIK JONES, No. 20 DeWalt Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Did you learn a lot about this track when you ran the K&N Pro Series race last season?
“I would say not as much here as I did at Sonoma. Watkins Glen has always been a better place for me as far as road courses go. We ran pretty good here in 2017 and ran real well here last year. I’ve always felt pretty comfortable here. I don’t think track time ever hurts and I didn’t have an opportunity to run the Xfinity race last year and this year as well. Just being out there and getting the fundamentals of the track down was big for me. The K&N cars are really a long stretch from what the Cup cars drive like, but you still get an idea of what the track looks like and be able to see it and get a feel for it. It’s definitely a help.”
Did you focus on the inner loop when preparing for this race and do you feel you’re good at it?
“It takes time. There’s some guys that are really good at it. I felt like last year in practice we were really good at it and then in the race all day we struggled through it for some reason. It’s kind of a balance. It’s an odd corner, it’s a timing corner and you have to really put yourself in the right position through it – take the curbs right and carry the right amount of speed on the entry or you’ll never be setup for the exit. I feel like I’m probably middle of the road. I feel like there’s times I can hit it right and get through it really well and there’s times I can miss it like anybody and really be off through there. It’s definitely a corner of focus for me. I feel like my struggles last year were through – in the race — the inner loop and through the last two corners – nine and 10 or something like that. Those are the places I was working on for this one.”
Do you have a strategy to point your way into the Playoffs if you don’t get a victory?
“We’re in a really good spot right now with points going into this weekend – 39 points, that’s almost a race up. If we can have another good weekend here at Watkins Glen, if we don’t win, getting another strong showing and getting up close and hopefully in the high 40s or low 50s in points over the gap to 16th, we’d be feeling pretty good. That’s the goal, we’re in a spot now where we have an opportunity to gain a lot of points and continue to pick-up some positions in the points standings. I think if we continue to run well until the Playoffs, we can continue to advance up close to the top-10 in points, which is a stretch and would take a lot to get there, but I think we can do it. We do feel good about getting a win here. We’ve been so close here the last few weeks, we would love to just close it out. I haven’t talked to Chris (Gayle, crew chief) about what we’re going to plan for tomorrow as far as strategy because there is a lot of opportunity like there was at Pocono to either go for stage points or set yourself up for the end of the race. It’s a fine balance and we’re really going to have to make a decision come tomorrow about what we’re going to have to shoot for. Definitely racking up points and trying to pick up more spots in the standings is going to be big for us.”
Is Michigan more stressful with friends and family nearby or less stressful because you’re home?
“Less stressful probably in some ways and in other ways it’s more stressful, you get pulled a lot of ways. Friends and family being there and more appearances and more people wanting a chance to see you or stop by. In some ways, the demands are more and stress comes with that, but in other ways it’s nice to be at home and spend time with people you don’t get to see. I’m going to be up there all week next week from Monday night on and that will be a nice feeling just being home for a minute and be able to relax for that week going into it.”
Is this a track where strategy can come into play for stage points because tires aren’t as critical?
“For sure, this is another place where tires don’t matter a ton within the first few laps and especially with this new package, I think they’re going to matter less. You have an opportunity to pit and get ahead of the strategy. It’s no different than last week at Pocono. You run Pocono like a road course and now we’re at a real road course and we’re going to run it like that. The minute you can make it to the end of the race on fuel, you’re going to pit and do it, the only thing you’re losing out on is stage points. You have to make a decision. Honestly, if we can win the first stage – if we’re in a position to do that where the guy is either leading it or the guys ahead of us are going to pit and we can win it, probably going to take an opportunity to gain those 10 point because they’re still going to be valuable to us and try to race back through the next stage and set ourselves up for the end. It’s so circumstantial and you’re making quick decisions and it’s hard to keep up with based on what everybody else is doing strategy-wise and where you’re at. It’s all circumstantial and we got some decent stage points at Pocono. Not as many as we hoped, but the way it worked out, it worked out okay.”
Is it hard to sacrifice a win to gain more stage points?
“It’s tough as a driver, especially if you’re in a spot where you feel like you have a car that can win the race and you feel you have a shot that day. If you’re taking those stage points and feel like you’re taking yourself out of the race, that’s not a great feeling, it’s just tough. It’s a fine line and a fine balance of which way do you go with it, which way do you do it and as a driver, you always want to go for the win, right, but sometimes you have to do what’s best for the long term and making the Playoffs and getting through the Playoffs is the long term goal for us.”
Are you expecting speeds to be faster this weekend?
“It will be faster. From what I’ve seen and from what we have in our simulations and stuff, it’s going to be faster. We’re slower in some spots mile-an-hour wise and top speed is down with all the drag. Our cornering speeds and entry speeds are way up so I think the speeds will definitely be a little eye-opening compared to what we’ve had here in the past and definitely some of the fastest laps we’ve had around here. I don’t know what the track record is, but I would assume we would be pretty close to it.”
Would you be in favor of celebrating second or third place on a podium?
“That’s a tough spot. You’re happy for the guy, most of the time, if you like him. Last week at Pocono, Denny (Hamlin) being a teammate, I wanted to win, but you’re still happy for the team and happy that those guys got one. As hard as it would be sometimes to stand up there and have to celebrate with that guy, I think there is a big part of motorsports that really appreciates that and it’s a big tradition for them. I know it Formula 1 and IndyCar as well so I don’t know. It’s never really been a part of our sport, but I think I could manage through it if we wanted to do that or if there was somebody out there that thought it would be of interest. I think we could do it, but it would be weird for sure for the first time.”
What do you feel you’ve done better with in recent weeks?
“The execution. Having cleaner races. Even at Pocono, where we broke the track bar and adjusted on the first stop, but we were still able to make good adjustments from where we were and come back and have a solid race and have a shot to win. It’s just cleaning it all up. Early in the year we had the speed and we would get up front and then we would have an issue whether it was loose wheels or making a mistake on restart or missing an adjustment – little things that would take us out of the race and take us out of contention that we couldn’t work back from. We just cleaned it up. The last couple of months we really had the pit crew locked down and Chris (Gayle, crew chief) has done a great job calling the races. I haven’t made any mistakes on my end, which is just as important so it’s been a whole group of things and just having clean races has managed to get us up front.”
Do you prefer four spotters or two spotters at Watkins Glen?
“I have four here so one in the main spotters stand up in the esses and down the backstretch. Then the fourth one is in the inner loop. It’s tough sometimes because you get guys that don’t spot for you every weekend and they can make odd calls or talk too much. Sometimes they don’t know how to use both radios so they’re trying to just talk to the crew chief and they’re talking on the main channel and it can be kind of a mess at times. I think it’s handy at least on the restarts to have those guys there, especially down the backstretch and in the inner loop as well just to have a secondary voice in your ear. Most of the time on a road course, you kind of know the situation and know whose around you and where the cars are positioned, but it’s still nice to have that second backup opinion telling you, ‘Hey, car right, car left.’ We’ve always aired on the side of having four guys. I think all four of our teams have four spotters. Just having the guys there just in case. They may not say more than 10 words all day, but it’s just nice to have them.”
Do you like a lot of talking or just when you need the information?
“If it’s anybody but Rick (Carelli), our main spotter, I would say just don’t talk unless there’s car left or right. Some guys get on there and they want to say, ‘Hey man, you’re doing a good job just nice and smooth through here, keep it going.’ It’s like, just don’t say that. Keep it low key – left or right, clear, that’s all we need.”
What have the last three finishes done for your confidence level?
“It’s raised it for sure. Now going to the race track the last month almost we felt like we’ve been in contention. As a driver and as a team as well, it’s a good feeling. It’s not just me, obviously it does help my confidence just going to the track, but it helps the team as well. We come off runs like that and those guys are pumped up too and they’re amped up to get back to the race track. You get in a slump in a stretch of two or three bad races and everybody gets down. As much as you want to stay positive and stay after it, it’s hard to fight through it after a couple weeks of bad runs so these weeks of good runs have been really good for us and coming at a good time when we needed them to get in the Playoffs or going into the Playoffs and hopefully finishing this deal off then it will be good momentum going into it. It’s been a big few weeks.”
Do you miss racing the trucks at Eldora?
“No. I will go back and race a dirt car, I was just never a fan of the trucks.. They were okay, I would probably have more fun now. That was my problem, I was running for points and when I raced for points, it was old points so it was huge and you can’t have a bad race. If I was there now, it would probably be more fun. We would probably be locked into the Playoffs by now and I could just go play around. It’s kind of a high pressure race and made it not very fun for me.”