Racing at Talladega Superspeedway has been called a wild card and a crap shoot but Erik Jones likes his and the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota team’s odds heading into Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Alabama 500.
The Furniture Row Racing driver realizes he’s only competed there once in NASCAR’s premier series and already has first-hand knowledge of its well-earned reputation for quickly ending what had been a great race. But he’s a quick study and sees an opportunity where others may see just a challenge.
“Racing at Talladega is really starting to grow on me,” said Jones. “I have to admit I wasn’t a huge fan in the beginning because it seemed like there was so much out of my control. But it’s different and changes your mindset from the majority of the season so it’s kind of fun.
“I’ve learned from this season’s superspeedway races that there are things in your control and more you can do on the track, like when to be aggressive and when not to. So I’m enjoying it more and looking forward to this weekend.”
Jones qualified 14th at Talladega in May but finished 33rd after getting caught up in an 18-car wreck on Lap 169. He was running in the top 10 at the time of the incident and had earned top-10 finishes in both stages of the race. Despite the poor finish, Jones is optimistic about his chances in the Alabama 500.
“The 5-hour ENERGY Toyota, and all of the Toyotas for that matter, have been strong at the superspeedways this year so we’ve worked together to figure out the best way to approach this weekend,” said Jones. “But it’s hard to execute plans once you’re out there, especially toward the end of the race. At the end of the day you have to do what you can to win and we’re in a position that there are fewer and fewer races for us to get that first win.”
This weekend, the TV panel of the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota will sport the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation logo in honor of his Furniture Row Racing teammate. The signature teal and gold logo represents an emotional time for Truex Jr., whose foundation’s dual mission is ovarian and childhood cancers. Truex Jr’s longtime partner, Sherry Pollex, is fighting a recurrence of the ovarian cancer doctors first diagnosed in 2014. In 2016, she launched SherryStrong.org, a health and wellness site for women. For more information, visit MartinTruexJrFoundation.org.
Jones is 19th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings after 30 races. He trails Clint Bowyer for 17th place by 12 points. Jones leads the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings with 255 points, six ahead of Daniel Suarez (249) and 72 ahead of Ty Dillon (183).
The 188-lap, 500-mile Alabama 500 will consist of three stages of 55/55/78 laps (55/110/188). Sunday’s race will air live beginning at noon MT (2 p.m. ET) on NBCSN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 and MRN. Qualifying (multi-car, three rounds) is scheduled for Saturday at 2:15 p.m. MT (4:15 p.m. ET) on NBCSN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 and MRN.