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2020 NASCAR Q&A: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup - Erik Jones
Posted by: ASkyler on Dec 16, 2020 - 06:29 PM
NASCAR News
2020 NASCAR Q&A: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup - Erik Jones


ERIK JONES, DRIVER OF THE NO. 43 RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1 1LE, met with media via teleconference to discuss his anticipation going into the 2021 season, how the team has been preparing for their first season together, and more. Full Transcript:

BEING IN THE CLASH IS GOOD BEING WITH A NEW TEAM, BUT HOW MUCH MORE IMPORTANT IS IT NOW THAT THEREíS GOING TO BE A RACE THERE A FEW WEEKS LATER?
ďYeah, like you said, it was going to be big either way Ė thinking about going there and now really having any practice. Just getting in a new car, thereís going to be a lot of different things Ė from the way the motor runs, brakes, steering, everything is going to be totally different for me. So, just being able to get on track, have some laps on something other than the superspeedway at Daytona. Especially a road course, you have to really try out every system in your car. So, I think thatís going to be really important. And plus, now going into the road course after Daytona, is even bigger for me. Weíre going to be able to take what weíve learned in that race and, hopefully, improve on it.Ē

 
ďThereís going to be stuff thatís different for me, obviously, and different for the team Ė a new driver for them and every driver has different preferences, feels, and things they want out of a car. So, itís going to be pretty big for both of us.Ē

THE TEAM HASNíT ANNOUNCED SPONSORS YET FOR NEXT YEAR. THEREíS A LOT OF SOCIAL CHATTER Ė WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN, SO FAR, FROM BEING AT THE SHOP AND EVERTYHING THAT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT NEXT YEAR?
ďWell, I think the sponsor announcements are going to come here, hopefully, soon. For me, Iíve been to the shop a lot. I was actually up there this morning doing some stuff, checking things out and doing some final fitting stuff in the car itself. For me, itís encouraging just seeing the alliance that they have with RCR. I actually went down and saw their shop Ė I hadnít been to RCR up until today. So, just to see all that stuff Ė see what theyíre totally capable of is really encouraging. Iíve had a lot of conversations with Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) about the car and the engineers about what I like in a race car, what I like before the race, as far as pre-race driver reports and information for myself. So, thereís a ton of stuff to go over and weíre still going over a lot of stuff, and thereís going to be more to go over after Christmas and New Years Ė everyone is going to take a couple weeks off here. Itís been pretty busy and a lot of communication with the team. For me, itís really encouraging. I think thereís a lot of things that weíre going to be able to accomplish next year that are probably going to surprised people. I think the equipment is there and very capable.Ē

NASCAR, OUT OF THE PANDEMIC, A LOT OF GOOD STUFF HAPPENED. OBVIOUSLY, YOUR DEAL, WHICH IS A GOOD DEAL FOR YOU. BUT, ONE OF THE BIG THINGS IS MORNING CONSULT CAME OUT WITH A LIST, RECENTLY, ABOUT THE FASTEST GROWING BRANDS OF 2020. AS NASCAR TRIES TO APPEAL TO THE YOUTH, HAVE THEY MENTIONED ANYTHING ABOUT THIS TO YOU GUYS ABOUT HELPING THAT TO CONTINUE TO RIDE THIS WAVE?
ďYeah, I really havenít heard too much from them yet. I think itís been pretty respectable and admirable, the job that theyíve done this last year in making that connection and making that growth. That was really cool for me to see Ė I read it there on Twitter a few days ago, maybe last week I guess now. Itís exciting for me. I think people in my generation and my age, definitely maybe in the last few years, havenít paid much attention to NASCAR. But, obviously looking at that, itís definitely growing and thatís a great thing for us. Itís a tough market right now. I think everybody being kind of held up indoors maybe opened their eyes up to a new sport, watching new things, and for a while, NASCAR was really the only thing on TV. So, I think a lot of people tuned in that maybe had never watched a race before and realized that thereís so much more to it than us just racing and being on the track - thereís so much strategy to it and lot of the things that are pretty unique in our sport that make it pretty exciting. I havenít talked to NASCAR about what we can do to keep it going, but I would definitely be interested in that Ė in what I can do in my field to keep connected with the younger fans, keep them interested and keep bringing them in.Ē

ALL NASCAR TEAMS HAVE THE SAME BASIC THINGS Ė CREW CHIEFS, TEAM MEMBERS AND ALL THAT. PETTY HAS SOMETHING DIFFERENT THAT YOU PROBABLY HAVENíT EXPERIENCED IN THE FORM OF RICHARD PETTY. HAVE YOU TALKED TO HIM? DO YOU THINK HEíS GOING TO HELP MENTOR YOU IN ANY WAY? IT SEEMS LIKE THAT WOULD BE AN ADDED BENEFIT BECAUSE HAVING TALKED TO MR. PETTY MYSELF, I KNOW HOW MUCH KNOWLEDGE HE HAS.
ďYeah, Iíve talked to him actually quite a bit through all this Ė when we were trying to get the deal done and since weíve got the deal signed and done, Iíve chatted with him quite a bit. Itís really neat for me to see how in-tune he is with everything thatís going on. You donít really know until you spend time with somebody how much theyíre really involved and what theyíre doing. With The King, with his team, heís all in. So, itís been really neat to see and just get some advice from him right off the bat about dealing with sponsors, dealing with fans and things heís done over his time in the sport to really nurture those relationships and build strong relationships with sponsors and fans. Iíve definitely enjoyed the time Iíve gotten to talk to him so far. For me, Iím looking forward to continuing that through the year and just being able to go to him, ask questions and get advice about something heís been around his whole life. And most the time the sport has been around itself, heís been involved too. Iím excited to grow that relationship and get to chat with him about racing and obviously hope to make him proud on the track. Running well is what he really cares about Ė he wants his car to go out and be successful and I hope we can do that.Ē

JERRY BAXTER (CREW CHIEF) SAID THAT THE STEP THE TEAM TOOK LAST YEAR, JUMPING UP SIX SPOTS IN POINTS, HEíS LOOKING TO DO THAT AGAIN NEXT YEAR WITH YOU. MAYBE THATíS BEING A LITTLE GREEDY, BUT HE WANTS TO GET INTO THE TEENS. FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, IS THAT A REALISTIC GOAL? WHAT ARE YOU SHOOTING FOR, IN TERMS OF WHERE YOU THINK THIS TEAM CAN BE POINTS-WISE?
ďI think thatís a realistic goal. The top-20 is the goal, for sure. They took a huge step last year, obviously like he said, and I think theyíre just continuing to grow that relationship with RCR and thatís continuing to make them stronger. I think thereís even more stuff we can do this year thatís going to make us better. Hopefully, I can bring some knowledge from what Iíve done over at JGR and their group and continue to help RPM. Itís going to be interesting to see. Obviously, itís a little tough with the development freeze Ė weíre not really able to go in and make parts and make things that are better than what theyíve had. But thereís still some aero development and stuff there that we can go out and hopefully work on.Ē
ďYeah, Iím excited. Iíve talked to Jerry a decent amount about next year. I think his excitement level matches mine in what we can go out and do next year. Itís just kind of a fresh start for everybody Ė itís a fresh start for me, obviously itís a fresh start for RPM with myself as a new driver and just a different group. Itís going to be fun to see. Iím excited to just be with a small group. Itís unique for me Ė I already know all the guys in the shop, which at JGR, I donít know that I had the chance to meet every single person face-to-face through the time I was there. Iím excited and I think thatís a realistic goal to get in the top-20 in points.Ē

JERRY SAID ITíS PROBABLY GOING TO BE A LITTLE BIT OF A CULTURE SHOCK FOR YOU, GOING FROM A COMPANY AS BIG AS JGR TO RPM. I KNOW YOU SAID YOUíVE BEEN UP THERE A LITTLE BIT TO GET ACCLIMATED. WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO JUST SEE HOW THEY DO THINGS AND BE AMONG A SMALLER GROUP? WAS IT AS MUCH OF A CULTURE SHOCK AS MAYBE HE THOUGHT IT WAS?
ďItís a lot different. It just kind of brings me back to short track racing to me more than anything Ė what I grew up doing in Late Models and stuff there. Obviously, that was my family team, so it was really just me, my dad, we had a crew chief a couple of times and that was it. The rest was help that was around us growing up in Michigan, local people. It reminds me more of that. Iíve enjoyed it. Itís nice to just be able to walk into the shop and right off the bat get to say Ďhií to everybody and thereís nowhere to walk around all day trying to get to see everybody that you need to see. So, Iíve enjoyed it. The communication is really easy Ė talking to Jerry (Baxter), talking to Philippe, everybody there that kind of makes the world go around. Iím excited for next year, just having one car to focus on. Itís all for us at RPM Ė weíre trying to go out and make the No. 43 run the best we can, which I think is pretty neat.Ē

YOUíVE ALWAYS BEEN A GREAT INTERVIEWER, ERIK. IS IT JUST ME OR AM I SEEING YOU ON SOCAL MEDIA MORE? YOU AND YOUR DOG, YOU READING STORIES AND WHATNOT. ITíS ALWAYS BEEN EASY TO TALK TO YOU, BUT I WONDER, ARE YOU KIND OF STEPPING UP THE SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE?
ďYeah, I mean itís been intentional Ė youíre not just imagining things with that. Itís definitely been a work-in-progress over the last year and a half, just getting more active on social media. Itís not something that I was always heavy into. I didnít share a lot from my personal life, I guess, on social media. But the world of motorsports is changing a lot in the last couple of years in what sponsors are interested in and what teams are interested in, and I think social media is a big part of that change. For me, it was kind of evolve or move on. So, I started to really push through social media and try to make it a bigger part of my life in a way that wasnít overwhelming or overbearing for me, I guess.Ē

ďItís still a challenge at times. I donít always think of things to share for what people want to see. The more you post, the fans are really interested in you sharing anything from your life, so I try hard to keep what I have going on day-to-day out there. Weíve done some cool stuff, obviously with the reading initiative that Iíve been doing for kids; reading some of the children books, which we started right at the start of the pandemic, which was not intentional. But it worked out really cool, people being at home and kids not being in school, being able to read some of those books and take some suggestions along the way. So, just some cool stuff weíre doing and Iím trying to think everyday of new things we can do on social media to keep interactive and keep it interesting.Ē

WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE OFF-SEASON NOW, ARE YOUR FEELINGS DIFFERENT THAN THEY WERE A YEAR AGO? OBVIOUSYLY, EVERYONE ALWAYS SAYS THEIR EXCITED AT THE START OF THE YEAR AND IF YOUíRE AT A NEW PLACE, YOU HAVE TO SAY THAT, AND I SURE YOU ARE. BUT DO YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT FEELING ABOUT ANYTHING THAN YOU DID A YEAR AGO?
ďI think I feel re-invigorated more than anything Ė just excited to get the year started. I know you said everybody says theyíre excited, but not lying and being totally truthful, I probably havenít been this excited since my rookie year Ė coming into the Cup Series and just having a fresh start, a new group, something to build and roll together with is fun for me. When you feel like youíre really bringing something to an organization, thatís rewarding and Iíve felt that so far in being at RPM Ė just feeling valued, wanted and that I can bring something to the table in myself, help improve and, as a group, grow and get better. I think thatís probably, more than anything, more exciting for me and whatís energized me to get the season started. It seems like a lot of times you get to the off season and youíre thinking Ďman, Iím ready for that month or two offí. And this year, I was just ready to get to Daytona with those guys. I was over there right after Phoenix at RPM Ė getting to meeting everybody, spending time there, eating lunch with them. Itís just been a different feeling this off season for me and I think itís been a good thing.Ē

YOU MENTIONED THE TRANSITION GOING TO A SMALLER TEAM AND OPERATION. HAS THERE BEEN A MAJOR ADJUSTMENT ALSO IN MOVING TO THE CHEVROLET SIDE OF THINGS, AFTER SPENDING SEVERAL YEARS OF YOUR DEVELOPMENT IN THE TOYOTA SYSTEM?
ďYeah, in a few ways. Obviously, names and faces are new and youíre trying to meet everybody and figure out what everybodyís role is in a short amount of time. Beyond that, itís the simulation stuff Ė the simulator, how that works, who runs it, where itís at, when do you get on it and how much can you use it, stuff like that. And just the processes, itís just so different. The race team is the race team Ė at the end of the day, theyíre all kind of ran the same way, theyíre just smaller or bigger, this or that. But the manufacturers I think are pretty different and they all have different ways of thought and train of thought in how they run things and how things are accomplished. For me, itís just been a learning process with Chevrolet to figure that out.Ē

ďThe easy thing with Chevrolet for me is just my connection with them from my whole life. Growing up around the Corvette company we had and that side of things. I had a ton of family that worked at GM Ė generational workers at GM. So, thereís a lot of things that are easy and natural for me with Chevrolet and GM. But figuring out the processes of how everything works internally with the race team side has definitely been an adjustment and a learning curve.Ē

YOU MENTIONED SOME OF THE CONVERSATIONS YOUíVE HAD WITH RICHARD PETTY, SO FAR. HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO WRAP YOUR HEAD AROUND THE HISTORY OF JUST EVERYTHING HEíS BEEN ABLE TO CONTRIBUTE Ė JUST THE MAGNITUDE OF THE NO. 43, PETTY BLUE, ALL OF THOSE THINGS?
ďItís a little bit hard to totally grasp the impact that Richard Petty has had on NASCAR and the No. 43 itself. I never got to see The King race, so thatís kind of an interesting thing I think for me. But I know obviously his impact on the sport, what he means to NASCAR and what he means to NASCAR fans. Growing up, my grandmother was and still is a huge Richard Petty fan and thereís a lot of people that are really excited to see me in that car from back home. So, itís been hard to wrap my head around that a little bit and really think about all the history in that car and what itís meant to the sport. But I hope I can go out and do it and its fans proud. I know thereís a lot of fans of that car, just from back when Richard was driving it himself, so hopefully we can go out and make those fans happy.Ē

I JUST WANTED TO ASK YOU ABOUT THE LEVEL OF SECURITY YOU FEEL NOW BECAUSE THE LAST TWO YEARS, YOU WERE WORKING ON A ONE-YEAR CONTRACT. JUST TO KNOW YOUíRE SOMEWHERE THAT YOUíRE REALLY WANTED, YOUíRE NOT NECESSARILY IN A PECKING ORDER WITH ALL THE STAR POWER YOU HAD SURROUNDING YOU. HOW DOES THAT HELP YOUR CONFIDENCE GOING INTO 2021?
ďIt definitely helps a lot. Youíre not so much worry about that. Obviously, I put a lot of pressure on myself to go and perform, and in the situation I was in, there was a lot of pressure to perform just naturally. Not just because they have fast race cars and that they win races, but the other drivers youíre surrounded with, as well. Obviously, the goal is to compete with those drivers and be able to go out and beat them, but itís not an easy thing to do. Iím excited to get over to RPM and not be thinking about that Ė just be able to go out and voice my opinion on what I feel like the cars are doing, what we feel like we need to do better and be better at from my side of things. So, thatís exciting for me. And just not having to worry about everything else thatís going on outside is going to be kind of a relief. Itís just a group of true racers. Guys at that shop want to be there, want to race and they want to go to the track and succeed and run well. I think thatís kind of the same mentality for myself - I donít want to go to the race track and just race and thatís kind of it. Hopefully, we can go and do really well, but definitely more excited for Daytona than Iíve been in a while. Like I said earlier, I feel energized about it and ready to get to the race track.Ē

I ASKED BRAD KESELOWSKI ONCE WHY THERE WASNíT MORE RACERS FROM MICHIGAN SINCE THEY HAVE SUCH A CAR CULTURE AND YOU CAN RELATE TO THIS SINCE YOU AND YOUR DADíS LOVE FOR CORVETTES AND WORKING ON CARS. HE SAID GUYS LOVE CARS TOO MUCH TO WANT TO WRECK THEM ON A RACE TRACK. FROM A SOMEWHAT LONG LIST OF GUYS THAT HAVE COME FROM MICHIGAN, JUST THE CAR CULTURE Ė YOU TALKED ABOUT CHEVROLET, THEREíS GOT TO BE A SENSE OF PRIDE. YOU TALK ABOUT FAMILY PRIDE Ė MY GRANDFATHER WORKED A CHEVROLET. TALK A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THAT AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR A MICHIGAN GUY TO BE IN WITH A COMPANY THATíS SO STEEP IN HISTORY LIKE PETTY ENTERPRISES.
ďYeah, I think it goes hand-in-hand. Getting to talk with some of the guys from Chevrolet on the phone over the last couple of weeks and just tell them my story was pretty fun. I donít think those guys really knew, other than what Iíve been able to do in racing on the race track, kind of my history in being from Michigan. Being from just outside of Flint, which was obviously a huge manufacturing hub for General Motors for many years, it was cool to share that. And just the love of cars, thatís an easy thing to talk about and those guys are car guys. They have their own cars and stuff that they work on and are interested in. I shared some of the projects that Iíve done over the last few years, with the 1969 Corvette I restored, my dadís Corvette Ė all that stuff was really a natural fit for me. Being from Michigan, thereís definitely people that are heavily ingrained in Chevy culture and I think thatís kind of what helps the transition be a little bit easier for me. But it was definitely cool to share the story with them, kind of my family and the history that weíve had with General Motors and in the Flint area was pretty cool.Ē


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