Heading into this past weekend’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Erik Jones had yet to run a road course in his career to date. As a result, the weekend certainly brought forth a unique learning experience for the young driver.
“It’s been a learning process for me so far trying to get around the road course good,” he commented pre-race. “We tested at Road Atlanta, but it’s quite a bit different than here so just a matter of getting used to everything. We got a good Tundra; it’s pretty fast. We’ve made a lot of changes, a lot of adjustments so I think we’re pretty close for the race.”
As he worked at continuing to learn the track, the 18-year-old discovered challenges throughout the 11-turn road course that make it unique.
“Obviously, the elevation changes are difficult for us and the trucks,” he pointed out. “The corner speed is kind of odd – it’s not really a high-speed corner or a low-speed corner so that’s kind of different for us versus where we tested at in that everything is pretty high speed. We’ve been trying to adjust to that and trying to get our truck better. I think we’ve done a good job at it and it’s just about finding a little bit more.”
The challenges, though, are welcoming as Jones feels being able to run a road course helps his development as a driver.
“To have tracks like road courses – it’s great that they do that,” Jones said. “I think it’s great for the series. I think it’s great for me to then be prepared for racing down the road.”
The learning experience went well, though, as Jones would qualify third and ran upfront throughout the race to score a third place finish.
“Our goals were to have a good race and finish,” Jones commented post-race. “Obviously, the 51 had a rough couple of weeks but to have our Tundra back up front and running in the top-five, that’s a great thing.”
Jones’ run to the checkered flag was highlighted by a battle with Gray Gaulding throughout the final laps.
“It was a real fight, honestly, to run third,” he commented. “I felt like we were losing something at the end – I don’t know what it was. I don’t know if I burned my stuff up trying to run down German the run before, or like I said, pressures were just to low. It was a battle to hold him off. He was there the whole time and he’d got by and then I got back by – and to hold him off at the end is a pretty big deal. Running in the top three is huge for me after a rough past few weeks.”
Fighting for the Owner’s championship in sharing the ride with his car owner Kyle Busch, the pair currently have the truck sitting fourth in points, 16 behind ThorSport Racing’s No. 98 truck with eight races to go in the season.
“It’s been up and down,” Jones said of his season. “We got a win earlier this year at Iowa, which was great. I wish we could have a few more consistent runs earlier this season but had things go wrong. Kind of turned it around at Pocono earlier this year with a top 10.”
Being able to work with Busch has been a great learning experience for Jones, as the Sprint Cup Series race winner has been able to help Jones in adapting to tracks.
” Anywhere I’ve went, he’s always been able to help me out – not just on the truck side, but also on the Nationwide side,” Jones commented. “He’s been a big help for me. He’s really a mentor and a friend. It’s great to have Kyle to talk to about places that we haven’t been. He’s been a big help to me the past few years for now.”
As the pair continue to spend more time together, Jones adds that they’ve really developed a good friendship.
“To have his advice is great for me in trying to move up through the series. Kind of get the insight of what he went through as a young guy at the age of 19 in the Cup Series,” Jones added. “To have insight in what he went through at that time, it’s huge for me.”
The friendship started off on an interesting note as Jones caught Kyle Busch’s attention when Jones beat Busch to win the Snowball Derby in 2012. A year later, Jones returned driving Busch’s late model, scoring his second straight win.
“It was obviously a great win for me, in general,” Jones said reflecting back. “Picking up that win was a big accomplishment and something that I’d been wanting to do. To be able to do it in my first trip at that time, it was pretty awesome. I’m looking forward to going back again this year – third year in a row – and hopefully we can go pick up our third win in a row. It’s a few months out, but I’m always looking forward to the Snowball Derby.”