Though he’s raced at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway just once, 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota driver Erik Jones understands the honor and historical significance to his career in competing in his first Bojangles’ Southern 500.
Jones qualified 10th and finished sixth in last season’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval. He enters the Southern 500 seeking his fifth consecutive top-10 finish and third straight top-five finish.
“Racing in my first Southern 500 is pretty special,” said Jones. “It’s definitely one of the marquee races in all of motorsports and it’s one every competitor looks forward to. My Furniture Row Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr., obviously won there last year so we’ll have some good notes going in.”
The No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota will carry a unique paint scheme that will honor the great rookie classes of the celebrated throwback era. The paint scheme is a photographic Who’s Who of the NASCAR Cup Series rookie drivers from 1984 to 1989.
“It’s really cool to be running my first Southern 500 and first throwback weekend in the Cup Series,” said Jones. “To be able to run a 5-hour ENERGY paint scheme that not only is a throwback in itself but also to showcase the many great drivers who were rookies during the era, and some of who went out to win NASCAR’s biggest races, championships and hall of fame careers, is pretty special. It’s great to honor all of them, many who I have looked up to over the years.
Jones is currently tied with Ryan Newman for 15th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings after 24 races, following his first pole and a series career-best finish of second in the Aug. 19 Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. He sits 19th in the playoff standings so will need a victory in one of the final two regular season races (Darlington, Richmond) to make the 16-driver playoff field.
The 21-year-old rookie took advantage of the off week to spend some time at home with friends, family and his German Shepherd puppy Oscar. He also got to experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Las Vegas: the Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor boxing match.
“Having the opportunity to go to the Mayweather/McGregor fight was pretty neat,” Jones said. ‘It was the first fight I’ve ever seen in person so to be able to be a part of something of that magnitude was pretty awesome. I really had a great experience, had a lot of fun and really enjoyed my time in Las Vegas.”
Jones leads the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. His 229 points are four ahead of Daniel Suarez (221) and 54 ahead of third-place Ty Dillon (175).
The 367-lap 501.3-mile Bojangles’ Southern 500 will consist of three stages of 100/100/167 laps (laps 100/200/367). Sunday’s race will air live beginning at 4 p.m. MT (6 p.m. ET) on NBCSN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 and MRN. Qualifying (multi-car, three rounds) is scheduled for Saturday at 11:45 a.m. MT (1:45 p.m. ET) on NBCSN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 and MRN.