Toyota Racing – NCS Darlington Quotes – Erik Jones – 05.11.24

LEGACY MOTOR CLUB driver Erik Jones was made available to the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway on Saturday.

ERIK JONES, No. 43 AdventHealth Toyota Camry XSE, LEGACY MOTOR CLUB

What makes you so good at this track?

“I don’t know. I think it is a combination of things. I don’t think it’s one thing. Through the years, I’ve had some good cars here, which obviously helps. I always feel comfortable here, and always have. I came here in the Xfinity Series in 2016 for the first time, and felt good, but first race here in Cup in ’17, I was just really comfortable with what the track was doing and how it changed and transitioned and how the tires fell off and how you need to manage your race. I feel like I have a good feel for that. I think that is a lot of it. It’s the feel of how the car transitions through the run, how these tires fall off. The track is changing every year as it is getting older. We have the patch off of (turn) two, which has changed things more than probably a lot of people thought, but overall, I think a lot of it is being able to manage through the run, and through the race – really racing the track too. You hear that term, less and less now, but being able to go out and race the track is something useful as well.”

Do you feel like it helps to come back at a place like Darlington?

“I think so. I think the schedule looking at it – kind of worked out well, knowing what my injury was, what the timeline looked like. There was probably a possibility coming back right away with the injury, but Dover was not a place where that was going to happen. Even Kansas was a place that was going to be challenging with high speed and a lot of risk being an incident – not of your own doing necessarily. Coming to Darlington, I feel like you can control your own destiny a bit. There is less risk for an accident like that. Also, three weeks in, I feel like we are on the safe side of 100 percent, and I feel 100 percent. It does make me feel comfortable though, about making laps today. When you are out of the car for a couple of weeks, it is tough in some ways, probably tougher than you realize until you hop back in and you are a couple of weeks behind everybody, but coming to a place like Darlington, where I feel like I get around well and know what I need to do as a driver to be strong and contention – it does ease your mind a bit.”

How do you evaluate where LEGACY MOTOR CLUB is?

“I thought Dover – Dover was a hard one, because Corey (Heim) – it was his first race in Cup, and he was trying to learn, drinking through a firehose a bit. I thought Kansas was kind of a better evaluation, and I thought all three of our cars were decent in Kansas. John Hunter (Nemechek) ended up having a good finish – he finished 13th. But our other two cars – Corey was capable of a top-15, except for that restart in the end. Jimmie (Johnson) was definitely top-15 without getting wrecked, maybe top-10. He was one of our best cars through the early part of the race there. I thought that was good. Our mile-and-a-half program has been more of a struggle than it has been, and in the last couple, that’s been our strong suit. I hope that bodes well for here – what we did at Kansas, and can transfer some over. It is a lot different, but there is some stuff that you can bring. We are getting there. We are making some big changes right now that are going to take some time to get into play. I think that everything is taking longer than we anticipated, but we are making the changes and taking the steps to get there now.”

How much time have you got to spend in the simulator, and did you have to change anything with your seat?

“I got back in last week before Kansas, and I felt good. I ran about an hour and a half, and actually ran a couple of tracks in there, just trying to pick tracks that it was going to move the sim a lot and put some bigger impact on my back and make sure everything was good – and I felt fine from the impact and also being in there that long. So that was good. I have changed a lot in the car. I changed my seat, and some belt angles – a handful of things that we found that could have been better before the wreck at Talladega. I think it has been a big learning experience, really, I think we have all learned a lot internally at what we can do better at with safety. There are all kinds of different opinions out there on what you can do, and we are always learning, but I feel like we are in a better spot – for me at least – and what I can do in the car. I haven’t made a lot of changes, frankly, in a lot of years. I’ve ran the same seat for about eight years. It was time to switch things up.”

How would classify your health?

“I would say 100 percent. Well maybe 95. I feel 100 percent, but I say 95 because I can’t go in the gym and lift weight. I can’t put that kind of load on my spine from a precautionary standpoint. I would say 95, just from that, but I feel 100 and ready to get back.”

What other restrictions do you have on yourself?

“Not much right now. Through this injury, it has kind of been a pain tolerance thing, more than anything. It is a stable fracture – there is not really a risk of it become unstable or anything like that – so it is mostly what I feel like I can take. Some of it has just been getting back outside, working at my house seeing what feels comfortable and what makes me sore and what doesn’t. I would say we are at three weeks tomorrow. Four weeks, next week, I feel like I will be able to get back in the gym and do my normal thing again, and at five weeks, be totally back to normal.”

What are you referring to when you say that you missed some things by being out of the car the last two weeks?

“I think just being in that rhythm week-to-week. In the Cup Series, you are running nearly 38 straight weeks every year. Everybody has stayed in that rhythm the last couple of weeks, and they are hopping in today, and it’s a normal weekend for them. For me – it’s only been two weeks – but still you have to get your bearings again, recalibrate them when you strap back in. I don’t think it will take long. I would say I’m way behind, but you lose that rhythm of it being week-to-week, and communication with the crew. I’ve stayed talking to them a lot these last two weeks, but that was also two weeks of them with a different driver, different feedback, different work through the week, so getting back in that flow of normal things for everybody is going to take a second.”

Do you have a feel or an opinion on the option tire for the All-Star Race next weekend?

“I looked at it some. I don’t know how much that tire is going to be different. I know the compound difference, and you don’t know how that adds up on track. I remember the All-Star Race a few years ago with the option tire, and that was not what we wanted. The true win with the option tire would be for someone to come in, get the option tire – maybe one or two cars – and go to the back and drive straight to the front in 10 laps. I think that would be a win for the option tire. If it goes green and it falls off, so be it. That is kind of the box you are in with that tire. You are going to have to see a large variance in lap time with that tire for it to be a win – three tenths, probably, of track lap time at North Wilkesboro to really make it work and cut through the field and do what you want to do. I don’t know if that is possible. I don’t know if that is what it is going to be, but it would have to be that to be a win.” 

Are there any merits to run the short track package at Darlington versus the intermediate package?

“I think it is too marginal. I think that we don’t have a proper tire for the short track package that would wear enough. Maybe here would be an exception – just with the surface. I think that is some of the problem at short tracks, just the tire doesn’t wear out and there is no load on the car either with the downforce that we have. I don’t know. I think we through messing with aero. I think the package on mile-and-a-halves has shown good. It is more challenging here than some, but you able to work around and move. I don’t think it would make a huge difference right now.”

How is a driver convinced to not get in the car the moment they’ve been cleared?

“It is tough because in one way – in that moment – when you get the all clear, you are thinking that I’m coming back and then you have more conversations and you realize that it is not going to happen, but I think at the end of the day, you are talking with multiple people through it, and figuring out the best options through it – it is for the best – and at that point, I think look – if I really pushed it – I could have been in the car last week, I think, if I really, really wanted to be, but if I make that call on my own, and overrule and go out and re-injure myself, I kind of look like an idiot in some ways, right? Barring anyone else’s words. I think sitting down, thinking about and getting past that first moment of you get cleared and you’re coming back, and then taking a moment to step back and say okay, yes, we are clear, you’ve done some things to make yourself feel good, but where are you really at? This was on Thursday morning. I was still sore. I still had soreness at that point, really until Sunday. Sunday of Kansas was really when I started feeling better, so to say that I could have gotten in last week and truly been at my full potential, and not – number one, be sore – and not, number two, be in the back of my mind saying, if I hit the wall right now, how is that going to go? I think I would have probably been lying to myself, so when you take those conversations and take a step back for a second, I feel like you get a broader picture and that’s kind of where I ended up on the weekend.” 

How did you get to that point?
“I think the way that we really looked at it – at the end of the day – I’m 27, 28 this month, years old. I hope to race in NASCAR for a handful of more years, right? I hopefully have a more than a decade. That is a lot of races. That is 500 or something like that. You look back, and say what is the difference of one or two? We go to Kansas twice a year – 20 more times in my career, at least to go back there. There is so many more races down the road are really the conversations that we had, and those conversations that we want to have those races together, and be in this sport for a long time, and not do something right now that is going to put me in a spot where I would have an early in to my career, and we’ve seen it happen with drivers over the years with these nagging injuries – they add up and eventually guys are out of the seat sooner than they want to be, whether it is, head or body, along those lines. I think it was along those lines of those conversations that I really had with people to come to a peace with that decision that one more week out – we look back two years from now – it is just such a small blip on the radar.”

What is your team going to do to give you more comfort for the upcoming Coke 600?

“We’ve changed the seat a lot. This will be the first race on that seat. I’m sitting in a pretty different position than I’m used to for almost all of my racing career. Guys that have went through this similar injury have gone through the same transition to their seating position as well. Fortunately – it is not a short race, it’s 400 miles – but it feels short here, I feel like. It will be a good test here, and next week at (North) Wilkesboro – how does the seat feel, what can I change before the 600. I would say it is two good weeks of that, seeing how I feel, seeing what is bothering me – especially after Darlington tomorrow, and saying this what hurts, this is what we are going to change, and this is how we are going to more forward. Hopefully, hopping out after tomorrow, I feel great after the race. That is the ultimate goal, but with as much as we’ve changed there is going to be different things that are going to be bothering me, or that I’m going to want to move or do different. It is the first time in eight years that I’ve really moved a lot of things in the car, and how I’m sitting and how I’m positioned in there, it is definitely going to be different.”

What have they allowed you to do physical therapy wise? What did the doctors ask from you before you got cleared? Are you wearing a back brace?

“I didn’t have any back brace. My injury was on the minor side – just one vertebra – so with it being stable, there was really no brace required from the start. As far as what I did getting back in the gym, really it was right after I sat out that week of Dover. Right after Dover, I was back on Tuesday getting in the gym. Some of it was pain management, treatment stuff – hot, cold – everything we could to make it feel better, and then I just started with walking, walking on the treadmill, walking on a high incline. Got up, started jogging a little bit to see how the impact felt on my back, and that felt good. So right now, it is more body weight workouts. I can’t lift a lot of weight or it’s going to put pressure on my spine, downward, but I can do any kind of bodyweight movements – just a lot of stretching, trying to keep – when you have an injury like that in your back, your back is spasming a lot to try to support your spine, so trying to loosen that back up is mostly what I’ve been doing, so the physical therapy side, there wasn’t much. Unfortunately, I learned with this injury – there is not a lot that you can do to speed things up – it’s more of one that you have to rest and wait. It has to heal on its own. The bone doesn’t grow back. It’s just going to harden. You’ve lost that chunk of vertebra forever, so I guess, I’m a little shorter than before, but you just have to wait for it to harden back up and where it can support and feel good again.”

Toyota Racing PR