Erik Jones is a rookie in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and at times he’s looked like one.
Other times, he’s been bad fast and performed more like a veteran. He just hasn’t yet been able to finish off races the way he’d like — in Victory Lane.
Jones sat down with FOXSports.com at Charlotte Motor Speedway and covered a variety of subjects.
The Coca-Cola 600
Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at CMS (5:30 p.m. ET on FOX) will be Jones’ first effort in NASCAR’s longest race, but he said he’s not worried about the mental and physical strain of putting in a long 600 miles at the 1.5-mile track.
“Overall, I think it’s a little bit less of a challenge than what it once was,” Jones said. “Obviously it’s still a very long race, and it still takes a lot more patience and forethought to put yourself in the right position. But I haven’t heard any horror stories about it, so that’s good.”
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Sunday’s race will be broken up into four equal 100-lap stages, which Jones said he figures will help rookies such as himself deal with the challenge of the long day.
“Stage racing will break it up some,” Jones said. “I think it’s been good through this first part of the season. It bunches everybody back up and then we can go at it again.”
Charlotte Motor Speedway has applied the same VHT substance that was used earlier this season at Bristol to produce a “grip strip” in the outside groove of the track. Jones said he mostly plans to stay away from it as much as possible.
“You don’t necessarily want to be the first one to go up there and try it. I know I don’t want to be the first one,” he said.
Jim Dedmon Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Jones said he likes the Charlotte track, which should help him in Sunday’s event. He has finished second at CMS in both the XFINITY Series and the Camping World Truck Series.
“It’s always been a track that I’ve enjoyed and been comfortable at,” Jones said. “It’s been fun, but it’s a challenging place. It seems like it gets more challenging every year, the rougher it gets and the more aged it gets.”
© Lesley Ann Miller LAT Images www.latphoto.co.uk Lesley Ann Miller
Jones said being teammates with Martin Truex Jr. at Furniture Row Racing has been everything he has hoped it would be so far.
“It’s been a great relationship, and I’ve been able to lean on Martin and look at his data and some of the things he’s been doing on these weekends when he’s been really fast,” Jones said. “It’s really been a big help.”
Crew chief Chris Gayle
Jones also said it has been a benefit to have his crew chief, Chris Gayle (above, left) work closely wiith Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn.
“Chris and Cole get along really well,” Jones said. “Getting to work with Martin and Cole has been good. We’ve been able to lean on them a lot.”
© John K Harrelson LAT Images www.latphoto.co.uk John K Harrelson
All in all, adding the No. 77 Toyota to the Furniture Row Racing stable that previously had only the No. 78 Toyota of Truex in it has been a positive.
“The whole dynamic hasn’t changed a whole lot by going to two teams,” Jones said. “It’s really just helped the program as a whole, having one extra car at the racetrack for extra information.”
© Matthew T. Thacker/LAT Images www.latphoto.co.uk Matthew T. Thacker
Jones also said it has helped him to have run previously in the XFINITY Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, which has a close technical alliance with Furniture Row Racing.
“The whole transition has been really smooth, really easy. Obviously with their alliance with JGR, a lot of the protocols and procedures are similar to what I had known at JGR over in the XFINITY Series,” Jones said. “That wasn’t too big of a change, and I had worked with (crew chief) Chris Gayle before on the XFINITY side in years past, so that helped, too.”
¬© Matthew T. Thacker LAT Images www.latphoto.co.uk Matthew T. Thacker
The PBJ magic
Asked if he heard any stories from other racers about surviving the 600, Jones said no. But he did remember one bit of interesting information from watching it on television in 2015.
“I haven’t heard anything weird,” Jones said. “I do remember one time watching it and seeing Carl Edwards spill a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich all over himself (during the race). But other than that, I’ve heard nothing that’s really stood out. I think maybe he won that day, too, so maybe I need to throw a sandwich in the car.”
Since Edwards did, in fact, win that day … maybe he should.
© Russell LaBounty/LAT Photo USA Russell LaBounty
Blaney’s beer advice
Friend and fellow Cup racer Ryan Blaney joked that the only special pre-race preparation he planned to get ready for NASCAR’s longest race was to limit his beer consumption in the days leading up to it.
Jones laughed when he heard of it, adding: “That’s probably a good plan.”
Win is on the way
A win in the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend would be huge for Jones, who acknowledged as much and said he doesn’t think a trip to Victory Lane is far away for him and his No. 77 Furniture Row team.
“The one thing that we haven’t lacked is speed. We’ve been fast every weekend. It’s just a matter of putting a full race together – from my standpoint, on pit road. Everything as a package just needs to get a little bit better.
“I feel like one of these weeks we’re just going to spring into a win, you know? We’ve had so much speed, it’s just a matter of having a weekend where it all comes together and plays into our hands a little bit.”
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