Success is almost second nature to Erik Jones. From late models to NASCAR, the 22-year-old has won races in everything he’s wheeled.
But now in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Jones understands things are a little different. And frustrating.
“You go through Trucks and Xfinity and feel like in those series you were capable of winning every weekend, and you get into the Cup Series and it’s just not possible,” Jones said Friday morning at his home track, Michigan International Speedway. “You got a couple guys that usually dominate throughout the season. Last year it was [Martin] Truex and Kyle [Busch], and this year is kind of the same story. It’s just tough.”
Stringing together momentum and meshing together the right group of guys creates a hard combination to beat. It’s not new, though. Jones pointed out that throughout NASCAR history there have been different drivers who have dominated, even recently with Jimmie Johnson winning five consecutive championships (2006-’10) and 10 races in a season (’07).
“Just trying to get that level where you can win races is definitely challenging in the Cup Series, and it’s not easy when you race against groups of guys who have been at it for a long time and have a lot of experience,” Jones continued. “You feel like you’re playing catch-up in a way.
“It’s frustrating at times. It’s the weekends where you are competitive, and are running up front and know you can go out and win these races that pump you up and keep you motivated to keep going after it.”
This season is Jones’s first with Joe Gibbs Racing after having won 2017 Rookie of the Year honors with Furniture Row Racing. After a slow start, Jones impressed through the second half of the ’17 season with a push at the playoffs. It included his first career pole at Bristol and 260 laps led in that single race. In total, Jones led 310 laps last year.
Through the first 14 races of this season, he is 14th in points with five top-10 finishes. Going into Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400, which will be his 54th Cup start, he is still seeking his first win at NASCAR’s top level.
In the Xfinity Series, it took Jones nine attempts to win. It was just five races in Trucks.
Surprisingly, Jones said while that too has been frustrating, it hasn’t been hard to control his emotions as the wait for a first Cup Series victory gets longer.
“I really thought last year we had a shot to win a few races, and was bummed we didn’t get to close them out and get that first win,” he said. “This year we’ve had a couple good races where we ran up front and had a car I thought was capable in the right situation of winning races, but, it’s frustrating.
“You want to win your first race and get that out of the way, but I feel like it will come in time. You look at some other young guys in this series, and it’s not necessarily a race [just] for myself. If they were out there winning five races a year, I would definitely feel a lot of pressure, but it’s something that takes time. I want to be the young guy that’s at the top of the heap and running up there and winning races, but it just takes time and experience and hopefully [I’ll] get to that point eventually.”