Erik Jones has been solid but not spectacular in his first full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season but knows he must be better if he is going to wrangle the championship away from leaders Tyler Reddick and Matt Crafton.
Working in his favor this past week is that the 19-year-old has been able to sleep in his own bed as he prepares to compete at his home track, Michigan International Speedway, for the first time in his short but decorated career.
Jones enters the Careers for Veterans 200 third in the championship standings — 16 points behind Reddick for the top spot — but confident that he can bridge the gap over the final 11 events of the season.
Even more rewarding is his opportunity to do in front of his friends and family in the Great Lakes State.
“I stayed in my own house last night (in Byron, Michigan) and I’ll stay there tonight,” Jones said. “It’s only an hour-and-a-half down the road for me so it’s pretty cool to be making my first start here at a place I’ve wanted to run at for a long time — not only but my whole family … It’s just a pretty special place for me. It’s exciting anytime you get to a new track, but especially when it’s your home track that you grow up so close to.”
Despite the excitement born of racing at home, Jones said there will not be much extra pressure associated with racing at Michigan. Instead, the challenge will come from Reddick and Crafton, who have both had the speed and consistency needed to win the championship.
Jones knows the time is now to start matching them on posting top-10s every week for the remainder of the season.
“At the beginning of the year, I thought we would have been on sheer speed good enough to beat (Crafton) on the track,” Jones said. “Unfortunately as the year has went on with mishaps and things not going our way, we’ve had the speed but not really the finishes and he’s so consistent every week that those poor finishes or mistakes are amplified — especially in a points situation.
“I think the biggest thing for us now is kind of maximizing our bad days than our good days. We have really good stuff and we’re able to go out and run out front, but on those days when we aren’t any good, we have to go out and make sure we don’t make any mistakes.”
To prepare for a track he has never raced at before, Jones said he prefers to watch tape rather than run simulators or video games like many of his rivals.
“I don’t do a lot of the simulator stuff,” Jones said. “I don’t think it’s close enough. I watch a lot of videos of past races as much as I can and check out what people did last year and who was the guy that won — why did he do that and what got him up front.
“Basically that kind of thing. I watched last year and if I have time, the year before and just see what the guys that were fast, what they did differently than everybody and just see if I can get a general idea of line and if the line moved around throughout the day.
“Obviously here, we’re pretty much wide-open around the track so it’s a pretty big drafting situation for us. It was interesting to see that and see how it played out. I think you can pick a few things up from watching some of the guys and see how to manipulate the draft a little bit better.”
Both qualifying and race day is on Saturday at Michigan. The Careers for Veterans 200 will start shortly after 1 p.m. on FOX Sports 1.
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