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Experience Elevated Erik Jones’ Performance

As @Erik_Jones continues to progress through the NASCAR ranks, 2015 will be looked back on as a career defining season for the 19-year-old.

He showed growth throughout the year as he handled and overcame many challenges. His resilience shined in tough moments as he demonstrated the mindset necessary to succeed in the sport.

Heading into the season, Jones may not have expected to face the amount of obstacles that arose. However, he battled through them in stride and gained experience that will provide him with confidence moving forward.

From learning what it takes to run for a championship to competing in multiple cars throughout the season, Jones juggled many opportunities and in turn gained valuable experience.

2015 was his first chance to compete full-time in NASCAR’s top levels. The learning curve associated with running a demanding schedule requires an adjustment period. Having to adapt to the demands of the sport while balancing driving in multiple series is no easy task and he handled it very impressively, especially when tasked with additional races early on.

The plan for the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver heading into 2015 was to chase the Truck Series championship while running select races for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.

However, the plan changed following @KyleBusch’s injuries at Daytona International Speedway in February. While it added more to Jones’ plate as he traded time with his teammates in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota, it turned out to provide valuable time behind the wheel that shaped the young racer.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wasn’t on his horizon entering the year, but it seemed likely that with Busch out, he would get an opportunity at the sport’s top level. Then it came much earlier than anticipated when @DennyHamlin needed to be relieved following the rain delay at Bristol Motor Speedway due to a neck spasm.

This marked the first of four appearances in the series for Jones. The only planned start came at Kansas Speedway in April, a week before Busch would climb back aboard the No. 18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota. The next two starts came in November when he was tabbed to sub for @MattKenseth following his suspension.

When asked about his time in the Sprint Cup Series, Jones said the experience helped a ton. Being in the car provided “a new sense, new perspective on the competition, and what I needed to improve on as a driver.”

It also translated to his full-time ride for KBM.

“Every time I got back in the truck after that, I honestly just felt way more confident, and comfortable on the truck side of things,” he said.

While the opportunities on the sport’s biggest stage were monumental, valuable experience came in other forms throughout the year. For any up and coming racer, learning how to deal with loss is critical to earning respect.

After having the fastest truck in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway and in June at Texas Motor Speedway but not being able to capture the victory, it forced Jones to “sit back and figure out how to handle that better.”

He also learned “how to be a better leader on and off the track for everybody, and have a little humility after the race, especially when it didn’t go as you wanted it to.”

It was clear when he hoisted the Truck Series championship trophy that he had elevated his performance through the learning experiences. As a result of bettering himself each time a new curveball was thrown his way, he has shown what it takes to succeed in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.

Expect the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to excel as he tackles this next challenge. Relying on his raw talent and drive to succeed has been beneficial throughout his career so far and should provide confidence heading into 2016.

The Camping World Series champion is now preparing to step up a level and compete full-time in the XFINITY Series. While he will use his raw talent behind the wheel to excel, the experience Jones gained throughout this year could be what propels him to greater heights.

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By Jason Schultz

Jason Schultz aspires to enter the public relations field of NASCAR. Schultz, 19, attends UNC Charlotte and is a communication studies major with a focus in public relations. In addition to contributing to POPULAR SPEED, Schultz produces podcasts for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Dirty Mo Radio. He also completed a semester as a social media intern at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Each year, he volunteers as the social media correspondent for Autism Delaware's Drive for Autism golf tournament featuring NASCAR personalities and the AAA 400 Drive for Autism Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover.