After an impressive ninth-place finish in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) debut for Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) last weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Erik Jones is taking this week to absorb everything he learned about his No. 51 Toyota Tundra in that event before making his way to the historic one-mile oval at Rockingham (N.C) Speedway for Sunday's N.C. Education Lottery 200.
Similar to his inaugural visit to Martinsville last weekend, the 16-year-old Michigan native will enter his second of five Truck Series events with only a virtual experience of the aged surface. Growing up watching old cup races on ESPN Classic and utilizing the simulation game, iRacing, Jones is hoping he can adapt quickly to the tricky characteristics that make Rockingham one of the most challenging tracks on the schedule.
"I have never been to Rockingham before, but every race track is different," said Jones, who is accustomed to tackling new tracks from competing in several different series over his young career. "I am hoping to make a drive over there this week to check out the track, and just get a real-life visual of what the track looks like. I try to make each one its own place, and not compare one to another too much. I really enjoy the tracks with a lot of character -- you have to manage your tires, and take care of your equipment."
Jones ran his first mile-length track at the age of 14 and last year raced in the ARCA Racing Series at Iowa Speedway, which although it measures just under a mile in length produces speeds comparable to most mile tracks. There he qualified sixth and maintained a top-five position for the majority of the event until a racing incident with less than 20 laps to go forced him to settle for an 11th-place finish. Although the racing incident relegated him to a finish farther back in the field, Jones learned many valuable skills from Iowa that he hopes to apply at Rockingham this weekend.
"Iowa and Milwaukee are both bigger racetracks that I've been to in a late model and ARCA car, so I may be able to translate a few things about the way you can use the air around you," Jones remarked. "This will be the first time I get to race on a bigger racetrack with a truck though, so it's going to be a big learning experience. The way the trucks hit the air is much different than a stock car, so I'll have to get a feel for that."
Jones' plan for practice on Saturday is to get more comfortable with the feel of his No. 51 Tundra on the larger Rockingham Speedway. Similar to Martinsville, where he logged more laps in practice than any other driver, the racing prodigy plans to log as many laps as possible during Saturday's two practice sessions in an effort to get a feel for how to use the air around the one-mile raceway to his advantage, at the same time learning how to manage his tires.
When the green flag waves on Sunday, his goal will be to produce another "rock" solid finish.