Technically, Saturday night’s SpongeBob SquarePants 400, will not be Erik Jones’ first in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. But emotionally? It kind of is.
Jones’ first Cup drive came at Bristol Motor Speedway a couple weeks ago. But because of the circumstances of that ride – he was put into the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after regular driver Denny Hamlin suffered back spasms early in the race and got out of the car during a rain delay – Jones didn’t get the full-force experience associated with most first races. That is, he didn’t have time to freak out.
“Bristol,” Jones, who was watching the race on TV at home before getting a call from JGR and jumping on the team’s private jet, said Friday, “really and honestly I didn’t have time to think about it so it wasn’t much different” than getting into his car in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series.
Jones will get the full Cup-debut experience this weekend. He has known for weeks that he would be in the seat of the No. 18 JGR Toyota, taking the place of injured Kyle Busch.
While he said, no, he’s not freaking out, Jones did admit that there is an edge to the situation that was not present at Bristol.
“There is a little bit more nerves going into the race weekend,” the 18-year-old from Byron, Mich., said early Friday morning. “I’m not feeling them right now. I’m excited about practice right now honestly and just getting on the track and I’m sure as the race comes around and as we get closer to the start time I’ll be a little bit nervous about getting the green flag and going out and making laps. Right now, feel pretty calm, but there’s definitely more time to think about it.”
Jones finished 26th at Bristol.
He will be racing in both the Camping World Truck Series Toyota Tundra 250 and the Cup race. Jones will be doing so at a track that he is visiting for the first time ever. Preparation has been by using his eyes and his ears.
“I watched quite a few videos from last year’s race – not only on the Cup side, but the truck side too,” Jones said. “Talked to Kyle (Busch), he won the Truck race here last year and on the Cup side he gave me a few tips. He told me to lean on my teammates for that as well. It will be a fun weekend. It will be a busy weekend – this is probably the busiest day of the weekend here today. I’m excited and I’m looking forward to it. I will learn a lot and it will be a good weekend.”