Erik Jones has learned to deal with disappointment this season. In each of the last three weeks, Jones has lost races in the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series when fuel mileage issues and faulty pit strategy spoiled dominating afternoons. He was not to be denied last weekend, however, sweeping an XFINITY/Truck Series twinbill at Iowa and Chicagoland Speedways.
He once again dominated Friday night’s American Ethanol 200 at the Iowa, starting on the pole and leading a race-high 112 laps en route to his first win of the season. His Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota outran Brandon Jones, Tyler Reddick, defending series champion Matt Crafton and impressive newcomer Christopher Bell to the checkered flag. Timothy Peters, Spencer Gallagher, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and John Wes Townley completed the Top-10 in a race that featured six caution flags for 36 laps and six lead changes among five drivers.
On Sunday, Jones’ #54 Monster Energy Toyota fought past Ryan Blaney on a late-race restart, then pulled away to a 1.9-second decision in the Owens Corning AttiCat 300 at Chicagoland. With the win – his second XFINITY win of the season – Jones became the youngest driver to win two NASCAR races in the same weekend.
“I got inside of him and just barreled into three as hard as I could,” said Jones, who led 94 of the race’s 200 laps. “Fortunately, it worked and he didn’t try to cross us over.”
Jones was understandably relieved to break into Victory Lane at last, capping a week that also included a major Super Late Model victory at Michigan’s Berlin Raceway on Wednesday night.
“I was really excited about this week,” said Jones in Chicagoland’s Victory Lane. “I thought we had a shot to win. We won at Iowa, got the win at Berlin and then to win here kind of topped off an awesome week. I’m very proud of everybody involved, to keep pushing on from some of the races we’ve had in the last month or so.
“It was kind of a rough go,” admitted Jones of his early season frustration. “It’s the first lesson I’ve had in the highs and lows of racing. Most of my career, I’ve been fortunate to have success. Honestly, I never had to deal with adversity, or being out of the game for too long. But over the last month and a half, I’ve had to grow a lot as a person. (I’ve) had to grow up and figure out how to deal with adversity. It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of things I wish I could have done differently along the way, but it was a learning experience.
“I just kept pushing along, knowing we had fast cars and knowing that it would eventually turn around.”
Jones also said the experience gained in recent weeks has made him better in the late stages of races.
“It seemed like last year I’d get into these situations and be so nervous,” he said. “This time, it’s like, ‘I’ve got this.’ That’s definitely a product of seat time and being in the car every week. It has been a huge, huge help.”