SEVERVILLE, TN. – Audio and story by Race Chaser Online Mid-Atlantic Correspondent Marshall Gabell – Ronny Breeden photo –
It took two seasons for Cunningham Motorsports and former NASCAR K&N East Pro Series driver Blake Jones to get together for a race, but the pairing will finally happen in the ARCA Racing Series’ Lucas Oil 200 at the famed Daytona International Speedway next month.
Jones, who turned 18 just over a week ago, had no idea this deal would even be possible until he got a call a few weeks ago.
“I think God lined up the stars to put this deal together,” Jones said. “We went and tested with Cunningham about two seasons ago in an ARCA car. We talked about doing some stuff – but we weren’t expecting to race at Daytona this season. I got a call from Paul Andrews and everything has worked out so here we are going to Daytona.”
After racing late models the past few seasons, this chance will be the biggest moment of Jones’ career, and it’s a dream come true for the Sevierville, Tennessee driver.
“Actually, ever since I was eight-years-old and raced Bandoleros at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I have always had the dream of running at Daytona when I turned 18,” Jones explained. “That has been the goal – to be in some sort of race at Daytona during Speedweeks by that age. So it’s a dream come true.”
While he wants to log laps during the experience on the high banks, Jones expects to be competitive throughout the weekend, especially with the crew he has behind him.
“My expectations are, with the crew we have, to be able to run up front,” Jones expressed. “But I am kind of stereotyped I guess because we have a veteran crew chief like Paul Andrews calling the shots for me, so it would be hard to not run up front.”
Andrews led Alan Kulwicki to his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in 1992, and he will be a tremendous resource that Jones will look to use to his advantage for mentoring and advice during the race.
“Anytime you mention Paul Andrews’ name in racing then (you are talking) about one of the greats on the crew chief side,” Jones said of his crew chief for the race. “But not only is he a great crew chief, he is a well respected guy and he knows a racecar like the back of his hand.
“So it is going to be a huge advantage to have him on my side due to all the races and championship he has won – and he is really experienced on these ARCA cars. I think he can speed up my learning curve tremendously.”
Jones will also be able to look to his Cunningham teammate Tom Hessert for information on drafting and other techniques to get quicker on the high banks.
“Tom is going to be a big, big help for me,” Jones said of his teammate. “He a lot of superspeedway experience and a superspeedway win at Talladega. He definitely knows how to get around Daytona, so he will be my go-to-guy for information.
“Hopefully I can help him some as well. But having Tom, Paul Andrews and Rusty Webb spotting for me is going to be a great team put together. It definitely helps to have those guys behind me.”
With all that guidance and the raw talent that Jones has, it could be possible that he will be standing in the winner’s circle at the end of 200 miles.
Restrictor plate tracks have been known to produce first-time and surprise winners.
“It’s a gambling match at Daytona so anything is possible,” Jones said. “Victory Lane is where I would love to be. There would be nothing better than going to Daytona on your first attempt and winning the race. It would be a fairy tale (if you could win) right after you turn 18, but I feel like we have a strong chance to go run top five.”
A strong run could also provide Jones with opportunities in higher-series, considering NASCAR team owners will be standing in the garage area watching the developing racers in the ARCA Series.
“It’s been my dream since I was eight years old to just race at Daytona,” Jones explained. “A win would just put icing on the cake. Personally, it would be by far the biggest win of my career, so that would be pretty emotional.
“But, professionally, it would definitely help because the ARCA race takes place right before the Sprint Cup Gatorade Duel, so there will be a lot of people watching.”
Aside from the World Center of Racing, there is nothing else scheduled for Jones in ARCA, but the short track ace would love to return to Cunningham for more events in 2015.
“I would like to (add a few races), but as of now there is no tracks we are planning to run in ARCA,” Jones said. “I like the series. It is fun to compete in and learn in, and the competition and race cars are great. I would love to run more in the ARCA Series with Cunningham but as of now there is nothing finalized. We’ll see what the future brings!”
Listen in to an extended cut of our Marshall Gabell’s interview with Blake Jones below: