Furniture Row Racing’s Erik Jones met with the media Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway during the lunch break of the second and final day of the Goodyear Tire Test for the NASCAR Cup Series.
The 20-year-old series rookie was driving a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry and answered a series of questions ranging from his overview of the tire test, thoughts on the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series to date, and what his plans are for the Easter break. The following is a transcript of the media availability.
Q: How has the test gone so far?
EJ: “The test has been good. We went through some NASCAR stuff yesterday that they wanted to test out. It all went well and I think they learned plenty. I had a chance to run some different packages and learned a few things. Today has been a pretty straight-forward tire test so far. We’re learning what we can for Goodyear and I think we’ve found a couple good things for them.”
Q: You didn’t have the outcome you were hoping for in the Daytona 500 so what’s the outlook for when you come back in July for your first Coke Zero 400?
EJ: “We were finally in a good position in the 500 when we got caught up in a wreck there, around halfway I think it was. We didn’t want the race to end like that so we want come back with a little bit better car. I don’t think we had the speed we needed all weekend so, hopefully, we’ll be a little faster throughout the weekend and have a better finish out of it.”
Q: About your season so far, are you where you expected? I’m sure you have high expectations being a competitive person but are you about where you think you’d be about now?
EJ: “I think some aspects yes and some aspects no. I would say, performance-wise, other than last week at Texas [Motor Speedway, where we finished 22nd], I’ve been really happy with where we’ve run. We’ve run consistently in the top 10 at Phoenix, Fontana, Atlanta but we just didn’t get the finishes we deserved. I think at Fontana and Phoenix we really had top-five cars but things just didn’t play out at the end. Either way I look at it, we’ve done as good a job as we can and we brought fast race cars to the track. We’re just learning more about how to execute, how to close these races out, and how to get the finishes we feel like we are capable of.”
Q: What’s been the biggest difference/change/obstacle to overcome so far in moving to the NASCAR Cup Series?
EJ: “Driving the cars and getting the speed out of the cars hasn’t been too big of a deal. I think like we’ve had good speed pretty much everywhere. It’s been more of a matter of everything else: the execution of getting on and off pit road, pit stops, strategy, everything that plays into these races. We’re learning more about that as a team. It’s a whole new group with Chris Gayle, who is a rookie crew chief. We have a lot of guys on the team that are first-year Cup guys so we’re all learning together and trying to figure it out more and more as we go.”
Q: Have Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott, both NASCAR Cup Series rookies last year, given you any advice?
EJ: “No, not really. I have to be honest with you, I don’t hang out with the other drivers too much. I kind of do my own thing. I show up at the race track to do my job and that’s kind of always how it’s been. I’ve always lived by the mentality that you bring your friends to the race track with you.”
Q: What are you doing during the off week?
EJ: I’m flying home to Michigan. I actually have a flight tonight. I had planned to be there all week and then they sprung this test on me so I ended up here. It will be nice. I like to be back home to see all my buddies I grew up with and my family so it will be nice to spend some time there.
Q: Is there a track coming up on the schedule that you’re looking especially forward to?
EJ: I’ve had a few of those race tracks already. Phoenix was one I felt good about and we had a really good day. Coming up, Bristol [Motor Speedway/Bristol, Tenn.] is a track I feel pretty good about as well as when we get to Charlotte [Motor Speedway] next month. I’m trying to figure out what’s on the schedule coming up. There are a lot of tracks I really enjoy. Dover is one I really enjoy going to and it’s coming up here next month, as well. There are a few tracks I have marked off that we’ve always been fast in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in, and tracks I’ve always felt pretty comfortable on.”
Q: Has there been an “aha” moment so far this season where you felt things starting to click?
EJ: “Phoenix was the biggest one. At Atlanta, we had a good run going most of the day and at Phoenix we even improved some on that. We just worked out way forward all day. We didn’t qualify that great but we worked our way forward all day. We were running fifth with about 20 to go and, if not for that late caution, I think we would have finished there. We ended up [eighth] that day. That was a day where I definitely felt good about it. Fontana was another one. We consistently ran fourth to fifth to sixth all day long, got a penalty late on the last stop. Those two races were really good for us as a team and races where I felt I had the speed to go up and be really competitive.”
Q: Is the “quiet confidence” you have been described as having accurate?
EJ: “I guess so. I don’t usually have a lot to say most of the time. I always feel we have a job when we come to the race track, we know what we’re supposed to do.”
Q: Testing doesn’t happen at Daytona much anymore so how beneficial is this?
EJ: “It’s beneficial for the team, for sure. I don’t know the last time we got to test a superspeedway with the Cup cars. It’s been a while. The teams always have plenty of stuff we want to try and get to during a tire test that will, hopefully, pick up speed for us. So it’s nice when we get here for the teams to run through all that stuff. As a driver, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world but it’s really good for the teams.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!