Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones was made available to media at Daytona 500 Media Day:
ERIK JONES, No.20 DEWALT Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How is Joe Gibbs as a boss? Were you surprised to see a guy go from NFL coaching, having the kind of success he’s had as an owner?
“I think getting to know him, no, it doesn’t surprise me, seeing how well he made the switch back when he did, how well it’s went since then. Just knowing his work ethic, kind of what he puts into it, how good he is with aligning the right people in the right places, it’s not surprising to me. It’s been cool to get to know him, hear some stories from him about his football days, past racing days. Knowing his work ethic, what he puts into it, doesn’t surprise me at all the success we have.”
Denny said earlier Joe Gibbs can intimidate you without trying to be intimidating.
“Yeah, he does. I mean, yeah, spot on. Joe is not an intimidating guy from the outside, but when you get a call from him, he wants to meet you in his office, you don’t really know what it’s about, that’s pretty intimidating. He’s your boss, right? Joe can be an intimidating figure without wanting to be. I don’t know if he does it on purpose or not. He probably does. You definitely feel that sometimes.”
Can you take any moment from winning the Clash and translate it to the 500 or was it too bizarre?
“You take that momentum. You take any win when you can, run with it. I think starting the season off with a win is great. Never been able to do that. Never won the Clash before. It’s a good feeling. Definitely an odd race. You try to run with it, carry that momentum on Sunday.”
Have you ever won a race like that?
“I’ve been part of similar races that have been pretty bizarre, but never won one that has been quite like that. That was a unique race, for sure.”
Did you doubt at any point during the Clash?
“Yeah, I mean, you start to question whether it’s still going to hang on. You run into enough stuff, hit the wall enough, you question the integrity of the parts. That last restart I was not worried but I was hoping it was going to make it around, at least get to the finish line. There are times where you question that when you get into that many wrecks.”
What stands out about Denny Hamlin as a driver, in the garage?
“I think his talent level’s not disputable, right? You look at Denny, he’s a talented guy. The way he’s developed as a driver has been impressive over the last 15 years or so of his career. He’s been able to really reinvigorate himself. Last year was a huge season winning over six races, being in the Final Four. Really put himself back on the top of his game. I think that was impressive in my eyes. Went from a winless season to that. Hopefully as a teammate, somebody to stack yourself up against. You know what you got, who you’re competing against, what you got to run like. For me, Denny has really put himself back on top of the sport.”
Have you ever golfed with Denny Hamlin?
“No, no, I’m not a good golfer. If I golf, I’m going to a course that’s 18 bucks for 18 holes. I stay there for a few hours, knock some balls around.”
If you could change one race in the schedule, which race would you change or which race would you add?
“That’s a tough question. I think a lot of the times we don’t always need to go to places two times a year. That’s probably my biggest fret maybe about the schedule. If I could add something, I mean, yeah, there’s a lot of tracks you could add easily that you’d love to in a fantasy world, some short tracks and road courses that we’d love to go to. Winchester Speedway has been one of my favorites up in Indiana. They have a great local following, a great track. Definitely the thing I wish I could change is some of these tracks I don’t think we always need to go to twice a year.”
Where do you feel you need to improve to be in contention?
“You’re learning speedway racing constantly. I think even the guys you look at as the top guys in superspeedway are learning each and every week, right? The package changes, you develop more. For me, it’s just continuing to be up front and learning about how to race up front during these races, putting yourself in a good position, learning how to work the air better, learning how to be more aggressive, when to be aggressive, when not to be aggressive. That’s a challenge. You can’t always be pushing at these races, which is counterintuitive for a driver. You got to learn when it’s time to lay back. That’s probably been my biggest thing the last couple years, just trying to figure out when to go, when not to go, not get yourself involved in that big wreck that can end your day.”
How hard is it to make a pass and set it up? How do you do that?
“It is tough. It was really tough on the short tracks and the road courses last year, which I think we’ve kind of remedied now with the other package we’re going to there. The mile‑and‑a‑half’s, it was challenging at some places. Single‑groove places, Texas, Pocono, really a challenge. The places you can move around, Kansas and places like that, the racing was pretty good. I think we all kind of enjoyed that. The restarts are crazy. If you got a good car, you can drive to the front still.”
Is it any different from last year?
“That’s a good question. I mean, maybe in some ways, maybe not in others. It’s an interesting sport today, right? There’s sponsors, so many sponsors involved in the sport. There’s not guys who have set sponsors really for the year any more. I mean, I have a lot of great sponsors, DeWalt, Sport Clips, all these guys that make my world go around. It’s maybe a little bit more different situation with more people moving around. I don’t know. Like I said, in my opinion, I’ve had such a good relationship with Coach and JGR the last three years, I want to continue it. I mean, I don’t see it ending. I think we’ve got a good thing going. As long as we can go out and win races, I think that will keep trending the way it has been.”
How do you look at this year? As an independent contractor, you have to look out for yourself. How do you look at this year and the changes that could potentially happen?
“Yeah, it’s a crazy year I had just in general. For me, I think number one I’ve had a great relationship with JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) for now the last three years, four if you want to count my year at Furniture Row (Racing). I’ve had a great time and great relationship with them. We’ve been able to win the last couple of seasons. I have no intention of leaving my role there. I’d love to continue that. But it is definitely a crazy year. There’s a lot of things happening. There’s a lot of things in motion, I guess, already probably for people, not really for me. I’m excited to see. The pressure is on myself from within, right? There’s no pressure from the outside, in my opinion. It’s pressure from me trying to perform. I want to run well. I want to win races. I think if you can do that, the rest of the things are going to come with it, what you want to do. You’ll have as many choices as you want. Hopefully that’s the case.”
Since coming to the Cup Series, you’ve won one race each season. Do you want to see that number grow?
“For us, yeah. I think we’ve been in position to win a lot of races in the last few years, have not necessarily capitalized on them every time. We’ve been able to win the last couple, which is great, but we want to win more. We want to be able to go out and win three, four races a year. That’s our goal. That’s what our teammates do. That’s what we want to do. I know we can improve. I know there’s a lot of things we can get better. Chris (Gayle, crew chief) and I have looked at what we can do better from our ends. I think we’re going to work on it, do the best we can. Hopefully we can go out and win a few this year.”
Do you hope to get your contract locked in earlier this year?
“I mean, yeah, it is what it is. I think you always kind of know in the back of your mind what’s really going to happen, whether you say it or not, right? At this point in the year, you don’t know, it’s too early. Last year, I would say by May, June, I felt pretty confident in coming back, what we had going on. You just can’t really get it out there yet. I think for me, you always kind of know what you got going. That’s the thing. Yeah, I mean, it’s nice to get it locked up, then you don’t have to worry or talk about it. For me, yeah, I mean, you do what’s right for you. I think for me, that’s staying with JGR.”
Talk about some of the races coming up after Daytona. Immediately to a West Coast swing. Do you feel like at the end of that you know what you have for the rest of the real racing season?
“Yeah, I mean, it’s a little different the last few years, Atlanta, in between. Going out west will be interesting. I think you learn a lot right off the bat. Go to Vegas first. It’s going to be different. But I think you learn pretty quickly who is going to be kind of the guy, who has some work to do, who is going to be up front. I’m excited for this weekend and the 500, but definitely excited to get to Vegas and see where we stack up.”
Did the racing get better with the low horsepower, high downforce? Did more people get more competitive with it?
“Yeah, I mean, it changed a lot through the year, the way we kind of built those cars, what we worked on, what we developed continued to change through the year. I did think it got better. I think more and more guys got more competitive and more guys got running up front as the year went on. I think any time you can continue to have the same package in racing year to year, it’s going to continue to get better. You look at the Xfinity Series, the racing there hasn’t really ever been better. If you can give the guys the same package, let them keep working on it, you’re going to let the racing get better, too.”
Vegas, how do you feel that was, a good or bad race?
“I thought it was good. You can run around a lot in Vegas. You can run on the bottom, you can run against the wall, in the middle. As long as you got a track where you can move around and you’re not stuck to one groove, I think that plays right into the hand of the high‑downforce racing.”
Three potential Hall of Famers as teammates. A lot of options to learn. You’ve had a couple years. Can you see where they might be beating you, where the opportunities are for you?
“Yeah, I think for me, you always look at where you can get better. With those guys, they’re some of the best in the sport. You see where you stack up against those guys. I learn from them each and every week, what they do, how they continue to have prolonged success, right? You want to have success through the entire year, at every different kind of track. That’s not always an easy thing to do. They prove that you can each and every year. For me, yeah, I look at them and learn from them each time, ask a lot of questions, try to get better. Having just in general their data even to look at has been a big advantage. I like having them as teammates. You kind of know where you stack up, what your equipment is capable of. I’ve learned a lot from them over the last few years.”
Have you seen anything concrete, I can do better at this, Kyle is better on a restart?
“Yeah, I think for me right now is green flag pit stops, getting on and off pit road is a big one. We lose some time there. That’s the big one we’re working on so far this year. Off the bat at the start of the year, you pick one thing and try to stick to it. That’s a big one at the start of the year we’re going to try to work on.”
You were the cream of the crop in the Clash, still had a lot of interesting things happen. There are 17 different driver‑car combinations coming into the 500. How do you know who is around you, if something should happen to your teammates, who your best dancing partner might be?
“Yeah, it’s a tough balance. I mean, you kind of know who is going to work with you, who won’t want to work with you through the year, try to be keen on that. The Clash is kind of a unique race. You don’t see much manufacture action in that race, everybody is kind of racing for themselves. The 500 you’ll see the manufacturers really start to get together, pair up, try to put themselves in a position to win. I don’t know. You try to know where your teammates are, where your manufacturers are, if they’re still in the race, if you can work with them. Through the days, you kind of get guys that decide they like working with you. You’ll start working with one guy, you’ll help him, he’ll help you. They kind of stick with you through the whole day. You learn that as a day goes. I try to keep mental notes of it. (Rick) Carelli (spotter) keeps mental notes of it, of who is helping, who is not, who is going to use you, throw you off when they get to where they want to be. You can keep in tune with it pretty well.”
Do you think we’ll see two-car tandems in the Daytona 500?
“I don’t know. I think that was a unique circumstance because I had so much damage, my car was really slow. I was able to really keep Denny attached easy because I could just hold it wide open and Denny could push me wide open. I don’t know. I think I wouldn’t be surprised to see it. At the end of the race if we get a green‑white‑checkered, you’ll probably see somebody trying to stay attached. I don’t think it will be as easy if it’s two undamaged cars. I definitely think there is an advantage there if you can get it working, get it going like we did, that you’ll definitely be faster.”
After what you saw on Sunday, do you expect there to be damaged cars the last 30 laps?
“I think you’ll see a lot more guys pressing on than maybe before, after watching Sunday’s race. I think sometimes you get in a situation where you wreck on a superspeedway, it’s too damaged, we should pull it in. I think after that, I think every guy is going to take that trip down pit road to at least say, Can we patch this thing up enough to get it back out there and give ourselves a shot? A little bit of a game changer.”
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