By Matt Weaver (BRISTOL, Tenn.) — @Erik_Jones will make his first ever start at Bristol Motor Speedway when he starts the Food City 300 on Friday but may prove to be a fast learner thanks to his experience at tracks similar in design to the World’s Fastest Half-Mile.
While competing in the ARCA Racing Series from 2012-2013, Jones thrived at Salem Speedway and Winchester Speedway in Indiana — two high speed, high-banked short tracks similar to the one rooted in northeast Tennessee.
In addition to a third-place finish at Winchester and a fifth-place at Salem in 2012, Jones also won the prestigious Winchester 400 Super Late Model race in 2013 — one of the most daunting events in short track racing. While nothing in the world can simulate Bristol, Jones explained that there were several little things that should carry over from his short track background when he makes his Thunder Valley debut on Friday night.
“A few things do carry over,” Jones told Popular Speed on Friday morning. “I haven’t been to those places in a heavier car but the same short track approach that gives you success at a Winchester or Salem should apply here.
“So yeah, I think there were a few things that I took from my Late Model background and I applied them when I took my first few laps.”
Jones was 12th on the speed charts after the final practice session on Thursday afternoon and was only three-tenths behind the fastest time set by Kyle Larson. The KBM rookie described his first few laps in just a single word — different.
“I’ve been figuring it out more and more as the weekend goes by,” Jones said. “It seems that the high line is the dominant line but you can work the bottom too. We have a good Reser’s Toyota Camry and we’re going to make it better.
“We’re getting close but we’re going to have to keep up with Kyle (Busch) which is something I think we are capable of doing.”
Former ARCA Rivals Welcome Milka Duno to Nationwide
@MilkaDuno is hoping to make a little history on Friday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, becoming the first Hispanic female to compete in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. However, the controversial Venezuelan will have to first qualify her RAB Racing No. 29 and also has some past baggage to overcome in the process.
It’s no secret that Duno has battled consistency concerns over the years, getting ran out of the Verizon IndyCar Series and displaying a slow learning curve in the ARCA Racing Series while drawing the ire of several rivals.
Nationwide Series championship leader Chase Elliott raced against Duno in ARCA as did the division’s most recent winner in Chris Buescher. Those two plus current ARCA driver John Wes Townley say they have no hesitation sharing the track with her on Friday should she manage to make the race.
“I passed her a few times during practice and didn’t think anything of it,” Townley said. “I don’t have any hesitation with her being out there. Bring it on, I say.”
Elliott raced against Duno from 2011 to 2013 in ARCA and says he doesn’t have any qualms but admitted that he hadn’t put a lot of thought into it when asked on Thursday afternoon.
“Who knows what this weekend will bring for them,” Elliott said. “I wish them the best of luck though.”
Buescher was crowned the 2012 ARCA Racing Series champion and likely has the most experience of running against Duno. They had a brief scuffle at Salem during his championship winning season but he didn’t bring it up when asked. He explained that as an acquaintance, he would make himself available to Duno for advice or feedback if she ever approached him.
“It’s a challenging track but I think she’s going to have a lot of fun learning this place,” Buescher said. “It’s very similar to some other places she’s run at in the past like Winchester or Salem … We’ll help her in any way if she were to ask for it.”
For her part, the former IndyCar driver admitted that she is in for a difficult challenge on Friday. She was 36th fastest during the final practice session on Thursday, good enough to make the field if that were qualifying.
She says that every race of her career has led to this moment and that she believes that her experience will see her way through these five races this season with an eye towards running for Nationwide rookie of the year honors.
“Our mission in practice was to improve our time and we did that,” Duno said. “It was a good practice. The car is good. We made a few changes and I’m learning with (crew chief) Bruce (Cook) a lot because you know it’s my first time at Bristol and first time with the car. I have so many things to learn but I’m a fast learner.
“It’s a wild place. My ARCA experience at Salem and Winchester helped me to handle this. Everything I learned in ARCA has helped me for this. Everything happens faster though. We have to go fast to qualify, so we’ll try and do that.”