HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – One start. One victory.
For what it’s worth, those numbers for Erik Jones at Las Vegas Motor Speedway can be considered nothing short of impressive. Last September, in his first career start at the 1.5-mile oval, the 18-year-old Jones drove the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) Toyota Tundra to victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.
After starting the race 13th, Jones methodically picked his way through the field, providing valuable feedback to his crew along the way that helped make his truck better throughout the 146-lap race. In the closing laps, Jones passed his then-KBM teammate Darrell Wallace Jr., to move into the lead for the final 14 circuits and take the checkered flag.
It’s just one of four victories in 19 career starts for Jones, who is competing full-time in the Truck series this season for KBM.
This weekend, Jones returns to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Boyd Gaming 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race, during which he will pilot the No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR).
It will be Jones’s sixth career XFINITY Series start and his third this season. His best finish in his previous five races is a sixth-place effort, which came at Phoenix International Raceway last November. This weekend’s race will also mark his first start with JGR founding partner Interstate Batteries.
Considering Interstate Batteries has adorned the hood of JGR’s cars for the past 23 seasons, Jones really hopes he still has “Lady Luck” on his side, just like he had last September. He’d love nothing more than to add his name to the list of drivers who have taken the Texas-based company to victory lane.
Based on his victory in the “City of Lights” last season, the Byron, Michigan native clearly knows how to get around the Las Vegas oval. However, this weekend’s race will be yet another challenge for Jones who, still fairly early in his NASCAR career, will take to the track in the No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota and continue to learn how to wheel an XFINITY car around the track.
All things considered, it’s a challenge relished by Jones, who coincidentally was discovered by Las Vegas-native Kyle Busch.
Busch saw first-hand just how talented Jones was back in 2012. It was then that Jones passed and then held off Busch in the closing laps to win the famed Snowball Derby, one of the premiere Late Model races in the country held at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. At the time, Jones was just 15 years old.
Since then, Busch has taken the young racer under his wing, teaching him, advising him and encouraging him each step of the way. With Busch now sidelined due to injuries sustained in the XFINITY race two weeks ago at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Jones would like nothing more than to give his friend and mentor something to cheer about this weekend – a win at Busch’s home track.
Erik Jones, Driver of the No. 20 Interstate Batteries NASCAR XFINITY Series Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You won in your first start at Las Vegas in the Truck Series last season. What does it mean to go to a place where you have raced and won? And what does it mean to have longtime JGR sponsor Interstate Batteries on the hood of your Toyota Camry this weekend?
“Being able to go to a place where I’ve been to before, especially Las Vegas, where we won at last year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, is something I’m looking forward to because I do have experience at that track and, to some degree, I know what to expect. Going back there and having Interstate Batteries on the car is a pretty cool opportunity, too. Interstate Batteries has been in NASCAR and with Joe Gibbs Racing for a long time, and the roster of drivers they have had over the years is pretty impressive. For me, it’s an honor to have my name associated with the No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota this weekend. I’m just looking forward to getting on track out there and seeing what the difference is between the truck and the XFINITY car, just trying to feel it out and see what we can do. Hopefully, my experience will be something that helps us right out of the box, and we can get a really solid finish for the Interstate Batteries team.”
Obviously, you are getting some more valuable for seat time, which is exciting. Can you talk about that a little bit?
“It’s definitely a neat opportunity to be in the car as much as I am this year. I’ve never really run more than 20 races a year in my whole career, so to have the opportunity to run 40 races is pretty cool for me. Just going to places I’ve never been before, like Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend, is something that’s not easy and is a challenge. But I’ve just been figuring it out as I go. The biggest positive for me is that I have good people around me. I have good people to ask questions to and definitely have good racecars, so all that makes it a lot easier. It’s been a fun transition. Any time a driver gets to be in the seat, they’re always happy, so I’m definitely enjoying it.”
You said you haven’t driven a lot of races. Do you feel like you learn every time you get behind the wheel, whether it’s a practice or a race?
“Absolutely, especially at a place I’ve never been. Like Atlanta last week, every time I got on the racetrack, it seemed like there was something new I was figuring out. Being in a truck and a car in the same weekend kind of expedites that process. You’re always learning, whether you’ve been to a place before or not. But, being new to a place, you’re always figuring out a little about the track that you wouldn’t have known before. As much as somebody can tell you how to drive the track, until you get out there and get a feel for it yourself, you don’t really know exactly what the track wants. Just trying to figure that part out is a big part of the weekend for me. Trying to figure out how to go fast around places is never too easy. Although I have some experience at Las Vegas thanks to the Truck Series race last year, I’m pretty sure it will be a brand new learning experience all over again for me with the XFINITY car this weekend. I’m looking forward to getting the Interstate Batteries Toyota on track and seeing what we can do with it.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine