NXS: With Offseason Complete, Jones Looking Ahead to First Season in NASCAR XFINITY Series

Jacob Seelman Featured, Midwest, NASCAR, Southeast 0 Comments

CONCORD, N.C. — Story and photo by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman —

For 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Erik Jones, the offseason has, in the past, been about finding additional races to fill the void before the grind of a new season began.

This winter, however, the feel was much different for the 19-year-old standout from Byron, Michigan.

Instead of competing in a myriad of short-track events such as the Snowball Derby, which he’s won twice before, and CRA’s SpeedFest — being held at Watermelon Capital Speedway at the end of the month — Jones was afforded time to relax and recharge over the holidays ahead of his maiden campaign in the NASCAR XFINITY Series this year.

The change was one that did him a lot of good, Jones said, even if it wasn’t what he’s been used to in years past.

“It was actually kind of nice,” Jones admitted when asked aboput being home in his native Michigan over the month of December. “The last few years I’ve done a lot of racing and found ways to keep busy that way, you know, with running the Derby and SpeedFest … other events like that. But this go-round, I think the season this year was long enough and took enough out of me that it was good to be able to go home and relax in Michigan.”

“The weather was even pretty nice, for the most part,” Jones laughed. “The last week though, the temperatures dropped and it started snowing — and that was the point where I looked at everything and decided it was time to head back south.”

Jones stopped by the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday to take in the action of Round Four of the Winter Heat Series for U.S. Legend Cars and Bandoleros on the new infield road course, marking a scarce trip to the race track during the offseason for the teenage standout. And while he never competed in the cars himself on his way up the racing ladder, Jones said he does enjoy seeing the “next generation” strive to make their mark, just as he did several years ago.

“It’s different for me, watching them race, because I never drove these cars. Up in Michigan, where I got started racing, it was all street stock and late model country. They have a small series for [Legend cars] but nothing too big. Still though, I enjoy coming out and seeing the young guys fight it out and race knowing that they’re trying to get to the next level. I was there not that long ago, when you think about it.”

With the NASCAR Media Tour presended by Technocom at Charlotte Motor Speedway on tap, the young superstar also took time to reflect on the emotions of his banner season and what it means for him going into 2016.

Jones dominated the Truck Series ranks, scoring three wins, 11 top five and 20 top 10 finishes en route to the NCWTS title, along with notching a pair of XFINITY victories and three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts to give himself a huge platform to build on this season.

He said though, that while all those things were great to look at from a success standpoint, they don’t alter his expectations at all heading into his biggest challenge yet – a run at the XFINITY crown with Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I don’t know that everything I was able to do last year, all the success we had; I’m not sure it really changes my expectations personally going into the year,” Jones admitted. “I think honestly, the pressure that I put on myself to perform probably outweighs anything else and really was the goal all along for last year. We had a mission and we accomplished it. Yeah, maybe in the public eye the expectations have gone up some, but I think in my mind they’re the same as they were.”

Jones also explained that while he’s performed in some of the top winter pavement shows across the country, he isn’t eyeing a start in the crown jewel dirt race that took place over the past week — the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“[I’ve got] no interest, honestly,” he said when asked if he would ever pursue a start in the prestigious event. “I think it’s too risky with everything I’ve got going for myself. Honestly, it amazes me that some of those guys like Kyle [Larson] and Ricky [Stenhouse Jr.] go out and do it with what they’re doing on the Cup side, but hey, that’s their call and I know it’s fun for the fans to watch them. It’s just not something I’m personally interested in.”

Indeed, Jones’ focus is squarely on the next step in his career, and on adding an XFINITY crown to go alongside his Truck Series trophy from 2015.

“I’m ready to see what we’ve got for this year. It’s been a great offseason, but there comes a point when you see Daytona on the horizon and that pull to get back in the seat hits you.”

“It’s been hard work to get to this point [in my career], but it’s been a lot of fun along the way. That’s what I enjoy the most and am the most proud of right now.”

For more information on Erik Jones, follow him on Twitter @Erik_Jones or visit his website at www.erikjonesracing.com.

 

About the Writer

Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.

The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.

Email Jacob at: speed77radio@gmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @Speed77Radio or @JacobSeelman77

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