THE MODERATOR: Good evening, everyone. We are going to begin our post-race media availabilities. We are now joined by members of our race-winning team. We have Joey Cohen, competition director at Petty GMS, as well as crew chief Dave Elenz. We'll start with some questions.
Q. When you guys first bring over EJ it's the old car so a lot of things have changed, obviously. But now with this new car what kind of leader has Erik been in terms of directing you guys, telling you what sort of feedback y'all need to build this car to make it better to the point where it's a race winning car?
DAVE ELENZ: Yeah, I think Erik is doing a good job giving us direction all year. I don't think anybody really knew what you had to have in the car to start the season, so we've definitely learned through Erik's feedback to give us direction on how to build these cars at the intermediates because at the beginning of the season we were pretty good at California, but then we kind of tapered off on all the intermediate tracks.
Throughout that time, Erik never really got down on us. He kept giving us guidance, kept giving us direction to keep building that program better, which I feel we have.
JOEY COHEN: Yeah, exactly what Dave said. We had to spend a lot of time -- there's not obviously a lot of on-track time. We kind of went through the off-season and did the Charlotte test, but the rules changed so many times, so many iterations from what we had in the off-season, a lot of time with engineers, a lot of time on the simulator, kind of supplementing some of these things and just trying to let Erik lead us, what does Erik need in the car, because to your point it's totally different than any race vehicle.
To a lot of credit to him. He's our senior leader. He's our guy that is going to lead the engineers, lead the crew chief, lead our guys to work on the car as to what he needs.
Q. There's a lot of people leading this organization that expect winning and championships, but was there a conviction that it could happen this soon? You guys come out of the gate really fast. You guys are leading laps and running up front, but were you guys expecting to get it done this soon into this process with this new car?
DAVE ELENZ: For myself this season, that was my expectation, to try to get a win. Then throughout the season, working with Joey and Mike, they definitely have embraced that quite a bit.
I think that was our expectation. It's hard to tell people that that's your expectation because they don't believe you, but that was definitely our internal expectation of what we were going to do this year.
JOEY COHEN: Yeah, for sure. Maury Gallagher, Mike Beam, those guys, they gave us all the resources we need. We never put a timeline on it, but it's definitely something that, okay, what's the next phase, what's the next step we need to be more competitive. I think a lot of it, like I told somebody the other day, we're still hiring people. We're still hiring resources.
But Dave coming in with this group, the 43 group, that's a very established group, very senior group. Those guys have been together a long time. The pit crew has been together. The mechanics have been together. Erik, all those guys were here, and just bringing Dave in and kind of plugging him in there was a huge step forward for that program, and I agree with Dave; looking at that driver, that crew chief combination, I felt like a win was surely possible this year.
I think we looked at a lot of times early in the season just a lot of things didn't line up perfectly. We talk about it all the time, you've got to have a clean sheet. You've got to have great pit stops, a fast car, you've got to execute on all levels. That's what they've been working on. It's 27 races here, but they got there.
I think not that there was any expectations that it had to happen this year, but the thing we stress is that Petty GMS and GMS, we want to win, and that's what we're here to do, and that's what Maury and Mike give us the capabilities to do.
Q. Dave, what were you thinking about as you walked down pit road and you got the high fives and selfies and everything else?
DAVE ELENZ: Yeah, that's pretty cool because I've been around a while in the Cup garage, Xfinity garage. I have a lot of friends on different teams. Won with a lot of them, worked with a lot of them, and just to be able to walk down and see all those people, person after person, congratulating me, excited for the win, knowing how hard we've worked to get that, it was really special. I think that was my favorite moment tonight, so I enjoyed it.
Q. Is there anything in particular that jumped out, interaction with anybody?
DAVE ELENZ: I mean, getting to see Greg and Randolph, they're both -- I've worked alongside those guys in different roles as an engineer, Xfinity, crew chief, and I feel like we kind of came up together. So those guys have both had a lot of success, and just getting to see those guys and see how excited they were for me to get my first win, that was pretty special.
Q. Was that your wife on the phone you were talking to?
DAVE ELENZ: Yeah, yeah. They were actually here last night, and we watched the race and went to Victory Lane and watched Noah celebrate last night. I was a little jealous that that wasn't our car, so thankfully we were able to get it done tonight.
Q. Dave, coming into this year, your first year in the Cup Series, obviously the car is new, but was that any more of an advantage for you because you didn't have to unlearn the previous Cup car, so to speak?
DAVE ELENZ: Yeah, definitely that was a huge advantage for me. The Xfinity cars all had flange fit panels to them. The rules are a little bit tighter on them. Definitely everything that NASCAR has done with this new car fit into me coming in this year. It's provided the opportunity for me to understand what's going on and not be -- I would have been seven years behind on what the Cup cars were because I've been out of the Cup Series for so long. I couldn't catch up to people at that point.
Everybody being on a clean slate starting out definitely helped with this whole season.
Q. You guys are the first non-playoff team to win the opening race of the playoffs since there's been a playoff in 2004. How special is that to just steal the thunder right out of the gate?
DAVE ELENZ: I mean, it's definitely cool that we're the first ones to do it. But I think the first thing Erik said to me is, Don't you wish we won Daytona.
Very special that we've done it, but definitely it's so close to being our ultimate goal. It's special, but there's a little bit more there, too.
ERIK JONES: Yeah, I agree. It's awesome to win here, but at the same time, yeah, you do look at it like that a little bit.
Yeah, it's hard to get attention in the playoffs when you're not a playoff guy. What better way to do it than that? It feels good. I feel like coming up we've got more good tracks. I wouldn't say this is the only race that we have a shot at ending the year out. I feel like we can win more races, and sometimes all it takes is one. I think we've gained a lot in the last six months with this race car and learned a lot, and the whole group has done a really good job. It's a big testament to the people, right, when you can win a playoff race like that. There's some deflation after Daytona when you don't achieve your goal there, and we had a great car. Things just didn't work out.
I think a testament to the group. Push just as hard as bring a good piece here.
Q. Dave, you had your hands full. First you come over to the 43 and then you've got to pull this thing together. You look at the instant success Trackhouse had, and Mike Beam says a lot of that is we kind of started out as a truck team, they inherited a Cup team. How do you guys get to that level so that Erik and Noah next year are battling for wins like Chastain and Suárez?
DAVE ELENZ: Yeah, I mean, definitely you look at the December time frame for the two different organizations and where we were at and what was at GMS and what was at Petty's. There was not a lot there compared to a Trackhouse organization that had an active team going into it.
I mean, I think the first day we had a meeting over there we had like 20 people in the team meeting, and that was pretty much everybody that was there. So we've hired a lot of people since then, worked on a lot of relationships with Chevrolet, different people, trying to get more resources in house, more tools for us to be better.
It's been good throughout the season. We're making gains on it. We have higher expectations than what we're doing right now. There's plans in place to get more people, better resources. I think we're going to grow more as this season ends up, and then next year I think we're even going to be a step better.
I think it's just continuing to get the right people and the right resources in there.
Q. Would you guys consider this a redemptive night for Erik?
DAVE ELENZ: No, I don't think it's redemptive. Obviously last year was a tough season for him. I watched from afar last year. There was races that were good, a lot that weren't great. But that's resources. That's cars that he's having to run. That's nothing to do with him.
I think he believed in himself and what he's capable of. I obviously believe in that. I think it's a continuation of where he left off more than redemption.
ERIK JONES: Yeah, I would agree. Obviously I was a little in a bad spot towards the end of 2020 trying to find a new home, and the 43 car became that and took me in.
I knew at the start there was -- it was a long-term outlook for me at least. I was like, all right, we've got to settle in and build and figure it out.
It's not like I just came in and did that. There's a lot of great people that came in and were a huge part of that, to build to where we are now.
But it's just been cool to see, cool to be a part of. Coming from four-car powerhouse team like I was at to what was a single-car team last year to now a two-car team this year and building into a race-winning program now has been very -- probably the most rewarding of my racing career.
This is the 20th time I've said this tonight, but I'm very happy for myself to win a race, but more proud of the group. A lot of guys tonight it was their first Cup win. Some it was their first win in anything, any series. I've been fortunate to win many races in my career, and that's been awesome, and this is an awesome race to win.
Don't get me wrong; I'm super happy. But just more proud of the group and what they've brought to the table and what we've built over the last year and a half.
JOEY COHEN: Yeah, Erik is a foundational guy. He's not a redemptive -- he's still got the prime of his career in front of him. When we sign to go re-sign Erik earlier this year, this was the talk about a person that's got 12, 14 more years of solid racing in him, and somebody you build a program around.
We're a young organization, but we're also an experienced organization. Like he said, there's a group that came with that 43 and there was a fresh young group that came out of GMS wanting to go Cup racing. Like he said, we all didn't know what we didn't know. We just wanted to go race and we wanted to go win. That was going to take resources. That was going to take Maury Gallagher, Mike Beam, Dave Elenz, a lot of guys just believing in that and trying to get Erik where he belongs. We're not doing anything but getting him exactly where he belongs, and that's in Victory Lane every single year.
THE MODERATOR: Dave, Joey, thank you guys so much for joining us.
Q. Erik, there are many distinguished drivers who have had long successful careers in NASCAR who have never won one Southern 500. You've got three career wins in the Cup Series, but two of them have come in this race. A lot of people usually talk about that this is sort of a driver's track and it says a lot about a drive. What does it say to you winning twice, having this twice?
ERIK JONES: Geez, it's like asking me to be braggadocios about this, man. I mean, I just really like this track. There's tracks as a driver that you're really comfortable at, feel really good about, and Darlington is one of those places for me. Here, Bristol, there's a handful of tracks in the Cup Series for me that I know going into it, if the car is close and good, we can have a shot to win.
This weekend was no different. I knew we had a good car coming into it. I knew we had made some good gains and had a shot to go and run up front.
I'm blessed to win this race twice. Like you said, there's guys that have never won this race, very successful guys, but such a cool trophy. I kept that one in my house for a long time the last time I won it just to see those faces and those names. That's pretty special for me to be on, and I've been a big fan of the history of the sport for all my life, as a kid growing up and even until today.
But just love this place, love the racing here. I love this race specifically. I feel like when we started coming here in the spring, I run okay in the spring race, feel like we're always a top-10 car, but I feel like this is the race I always have circled, from the length of it to the transition from day to night, just every bit of it I love.
Q. Kind of on the redemptive note, I know how proud you were and excited to be able to make it to the Cup Series and to be able to do it with a big team at Joe Gibbs Racing and it didn't play out the way you wanted it to. There were good moments, but as a whole. When it comes down that you're not coming back there again and you're trying to put a piece together to stay here at this level, was there any doubt, trepidation, fear, that you couldn't get back to this level where you're winning marquee races?
ERIK JONES: You know, it's a good question. I would say I was not in desperation mode when I went to the 43 car. I was in -- the outlook I had was to build. I knew last year was going to be a tough year, and I think there was some really high hopes in the 43 camp that last year was going to be a magic year. I'm like, man, I'd love to say I can plug in and just make this car win races, but it just doesn't happen like that.
Coming in, I knew it was going to take time to build. I was fortunate to have been with a winning organization and have won races in Cup and know what it takes, which was a big help for sure coming into RPM at the time and now Petty GMS.
Yeah, was there times when I doubted it? Probably. I remember -- you're not supposed to tell everybody what you're doing, but my close friends, I called them and said, hey, this is what I'm doing; I've signed this deal with the 43 car. You can tell in your close friends' voices when they're like, oh, yeah, that's good, man, I'm happy for you. I'm sitting there on the phone, like yeah, yeah, yeah, and I actually was talking to one of them the other week, and he's like, you know, I was really nervous when you first told me about this deal, and to see what you guys have done this year has really proved me wrong.
So yeah, there's some nerves in there at times. I think the big thing for me, I never doubted myself, man. I never found myself in a bad place. Sure, I was disappointed at times, last year, absolutely. But I never -- I cannot say there was one time where I thought, man, I just can't do this.
Q. What has been your role when it comes to building this new car, leading them as a team? I talked to the guys about that earlier, but in terms of how you decide to give them feedback, the team debriefs, what is a driver's role in developing this new car?
ERIK JONES: I think with this car, it's obviously -- very obviously, it's put a lot of parity into the sport, and it takes a great team for sure. Some of it has been I think on the drivers to really learn about this car and the handling and the suspension. I feel like when I ask for changes and want to work on the race car, I really try to know what I'm talking about and really try to know what we're doing in the race car, and Dave knows that and tries to share as much information as he can with me.
But obviously my role I guess is trying to trying to find the right people. When we were at the end of last season and knew we were making a change as far as crew chief, obviously there's a few names you kind of put on the board like okay, these are the guys we want to go after, and Dave was the resounding guy as far as who we wanted to get. I knew as soon as we got him signed it was going to be a different season.
Dave is a sharp guy. He's got the kind of background I like. He's got the approach I like, the demeanor I like, and he was just really the guy that we've been looking for in the Cup Series. He was just the kind of guy I wanted to work with. He's been a bigger game changer than what I could ever bring to the table.
Q. Erik, Joey Logano said that this to him, the Southern 500, is the longest and the toughest race. Obviously the Coke 600 is pretty long, but he said this one is the toughest. He said for you, you should be proud of yourself. Then when he realized this is your second one, he went, sheesh. So what does that mean to hear other drivers just give a compliment like that?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, it's cool. I mean, you always -- every person seeks respect from their peers, right. It doesn't matter what you're doing. Obviously in racing we seek it, day-to-day work. It doesn't matter what you're doing.
It is cool to have that respect. I've tried to earn the respect of my competitors as a driver and as a competitor. Darlington is a tough place.
Like I mentioned, though, it's just a place I've felt good about. It reminds me so much of places that I just grew up racing at. Sure, it's bigger, but it takes a lot of things that I did as a young guy racing late models to be successful. It takes a lot of those same things here.
Q. I think you said in your television interview this was the calmest you've ever been running for a win. Why was that? What was different about this time?
ERIK JONES: I wish I knew. I'd do it every time. To be honest, I hadn't been in position to win a race in a while, number one. But I went and ran some late-model races this year, grabbed a win at ORP against William Byron up there, and kind of got me back in the mindset like all right, got to get in the mindset of winning these races again.
I went through a year where we were not in contention to win. I went to Auto Club earlier this year with a winning car and didn't win the race, and a lot of it was just because I was rusty. I was sloppy on restarts and car placement and stuff that I know I can be better at, and I was like, man, I've just got to get back in that groove.
But some of it's just having been there, right? I looked back towards the other Southern 500 I won here, and that was probably harder as a driver to be honest because I ran out the -- felt like the entire last segment. We went through pit stops, racing with those guys, racing with Kyle at the end for what felt like 50 laps.
This one, I'm like, all I've got to do is 20. If I can get clear, just run 20 perfect laps and it's all mine, and I guess that's why I felt so good about it.
Q. I think you segued into what I was going to ask you about. As I've watched you this season, seeing the top 5s, the top 10s, at what point did you feel like that as an organization you had turned the corner and that we have a fighting chance to win?
ERIK JONES: Almost right off the bat. We went to Daytona 500 and we were good, but then we went to Auto Club, the second race of the season and qualified second. We had a shot at the pole. We led laps. We were up front in contention for the win. I was like, man, this new car, like we have a shot now.
From that point on, I was like, we can do it. We can win a race, non-speedway race this season. There was ups and downs. I would say probably the past three months I would have said no way we could have won this race, but the last month, we've made some good stuff and good gains on this race car where we have been good enough to win these races.
You know, I guess it's been a little bit of both. The start of the season I felt good and then we went through a lull but then we've been back on it. It's a good group, man, probably the best group I've had in my career at this level as far as people, and it shows.
Q. Having got the 43 back in Victory Lane; what do you think about that, and have you talked to the King yet?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, I talked to him on the phone, him and Dale Inman had left earlier to go home. They said it was getting too late. They needed to go and rest. They had to drive home. Yeah, I did talk to him, and that was cool.
I obviously have gotten to know the King pretty well over the last year, almost two years now, and I wish I could have seen him face to face just to see his emotion, and I will. I really would love to just sit down and watch the race with him, especially the ending there and talk about it. But it's been fun, man.
With Richard, he hasn't raced in almost 30 years now, but the cars change and everything, but what doesn't really change is the mentality. It's the same. He's a racer. He won 200 races, seven championships. I mean, he knows how to get it done, so he's shared a lot of wisdom with me and has given plenty of constructive criticism, which has been good, and I've enjoyed -- it's been just cool to hear from him, just cool to hear what he thinks after watching a race what I can do better, and there's totally been things I've learned from him. Some people may not believe that, but there's been stuff that I've definitely learned from that guy.
Q. One of your pit crew guys on the pit box is from nearby Irmo, about an hour and a half away, Danny Efland. What has he meant to your team? Obviously kind of a jack-of-all-trades this year for you.
ERIK JONES: Yeah, Danny has been -- I laugh, him and I have a good relationship, but just so cool to get him to Victory Lane. What he's done the last year and a half has been great. He had a tough role last season. He really had a heavy load, and this year I think him and Dave have meshed super well.
It was Dave's decision. He could keep Danny or let Danny go, to be honest, at the start of the season. He wanted to keep Danny, liked Danny, wanted to work with him. Him and Dave have just meshed so well.
Danny has done so much work in the simulator. I make fun of him because we go to the simulator so much and he makes me go so much, but he's definitely going to continue to make me go plenty now that we've won a race together. He just does a good job. He's a smart dude. He's really got a great role in what he does as far as being a race engineer, really loves that side of it, the technical side of it, running the sim, coming up with changes, bouncing ideas off of, and he takes it very seriously. He's very serious about the racing.
I like how he approaches it. He's got a similar approach when he gets to the racetrack as what I do. It's all business when you're here, and you're here to race and you're here to win, and Danny has done a great job.
Q. I'm sure you were as congenial a teammate at Gibbs as you can possibly be in this sport. Was it at all maybe a little odd that you're trying to chase down Martin who looks like he's got the strongest car, then you're trying to chase down Kyle, and then you're out racing Denny for the win?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, I mean, they're fast, right? They're always fast. I had plenty of fast cars when I was with them.
Yeah, it was funny at one point we were in the top 5 with four other JGR cars. I was kind of laughing but it's cool to get to go up there and race against those guys.
At the end of the day they gave me a great home for, whatever it was, three years, and I had a great time there. I learned a ton. What I've learned there is what I've brought with me to this camp the last two years, and without that experience, I don't know that we would have ever built to this point, to be totally honest with you.
I'm always thankful for what they did for me in my career early on, through trucks, Xfinity, early in Cup, and like I totally believe without them, I wouldn't have been at this point.
Yeah, it was kind of funny getting to go up against those guys at the end, and when Kyle was sitting in front of me before he blew up, I was just like, man, this is just like three years ago; race against you for this one last time, and I was hoping to do it again, and Kyle has meant a lot to my career, so I was looking forward to getting to go up against him.
Q. You kind of answered the question a little bit, but when the 18 and the 19 dropped out, it opened -- what was your perspective on that, and did you feel like, This is our chance?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, I mean, when the 19 dropped out I was like, okay, we've got a shot. Kyle had got into the wall pretty good and I think he had some damage, enough that it was making a difference in his race car.
But when the 18 blew up under yellow I was like, holy cow, this is a gift from above, right? I felt like it's a sign. I can't give it up at this point.
I've never had anything like that happen in my racing career. But you've got to be there. We were in position. We were in second place before Kyle had his issue. I knew when we took the lead, I was like, geez, it's really my race to lose now. But yeah, it was crazy. I've never had anything like that happen.
Q. You missed Victory Lane coming down pit road for the first time.
ERIK JONES: Yeah, I did. It was funny because I was driving down the frontstretch and I was carrying the flag and enjoying everything with the fans, and I'm like, man, I know where Victory Lane is at here and everything, and I blew right past it, so I guess I'd forgot. It's been a minute.
Q. Just kind of curious, Trackhouse has gotten a lot of attention this year, and you guys are kind of in that building process, as well. I'm just curious they all really believed in the philosophy of what Justin Marks was putting in. Do you feel like you're in the same position with Dave Elenz, you really wanted Dave Elenz, you got Dave Elenz. Maury has really tried to get to this point for several years. This wasn't an overnight deal for him, either.
Do you see yourself getting to a point where you can build it up to have the kind of continual success that they're having?
ERIK JONES: You know, yeah, I hope so. That's the ultimate goal for sure. Getting that first win is a big step for us. Maury has been building a lot of similar things as what they have, but Maury is a very quiet guy. Maury is obviously not even here tonight. I wish he was, but he doesn't like to be in the limelight. He's not flashy. He kind of just does his own deal.
I appreciate that. I'm kind of the same way, so I can relate to him.
It's funny, yeah, I think he's building the same stuff. He's got the same game plan. We do need to probably -- there's some stuff we need to improve on to be on the same level as what those guys are right now, but we have the potential and the people and the equipment to do the same sort of thing those guys have.
Q. This win comes a week after the playoff cut. Tragically ironic, but does that make this win just a little bittersweet in a way?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, I mean, yes and no. I don't look at life like that. I'm in the moment. I guess it's because I'm somewhat ADD. I just kind of roll with what's going on. I'm a little, what's ever happening is happening.
But you can't dwell on what could be. Yeah, sure, it would be awesome to be two wins in a row and in the Round of 12, but I'm just proud that we've won this race at this point, and that's the way I look at it. I'm excited to celebrate with everybody. I'm proud of the group.
Yeah, I mean, you can't help but think about it a little bit, but I don't dwell on it too much.
Q. Erik, this is the 200th win for the No. 43. Does that add any significance to your win tonight?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, it's cool for multiple reasons for me. Obviously getting No. 200 for the 43 is pretty cool, but just getting a win for the 43 in general is pretty special. It's been, I think, seven years, eight years since they last won a race, and before that a multitude of years and especially at a non-plate track, it's been 20, 30 years.
Really special. As soon as I came to the 43 team, I got so many racing fans in my family. My grandma specifically was so pumped I was coming to drive the 43 car. I just could not wait to try to get a win for that group, and just wanted it, man. I wanted it more than ever. Getting them back to Victory Lane for the first time in a while has been really a dream come true today.
Q. Of everything you experienced, what is most meaningful of being back in Victory Lane for you personally?
ERIK JONES: Well, I guess for me personally, it's just I guess probably a lot of people counted me out. After the 20 car and leaving that, and obviously that's a very winning organization that's in contention for wins, championships week-to-week and year-to-year, I think there was a lot of people that was like, wow, he's going to run out whatever he can do with that group and he's done.
I just never looked at it that way. My total view going in was to build and to -- I knew as soon as I met the group on the 43 team, which is almost all the same guys as it is today, that they had tons of potential. These are guys that have been at a few other teams but mostly the 43 group for a while. They had lots of potential.
I guess the biggest thing for me that I'm proud of personally is just to see the growth. We went from a team last year that we were running 30th here last year and we blew a motor in the 500, Southern 500, and to come this year and be a top-5 car all day and then win the race, man, it's just something to be pretty proud of.
Q. When you think about where you guys have come in the last nine to ten months, and obviously came out the gates quickly, is it easy to project what things could look like in nine to ten months, and if so, what does that look like potentially in your mind?
ERIK JONES: Well, you don't want to go crazy. Obviously today is a great day, and we're not going to look at -- for us, our group, we're going to enjoy it, live it up for a day or two and then get back to work.
For me, it's just -- we've been in contention. It's not like we just randomly won a race. There's been other days this season we've had cars good enough to win, we just haven't executed.
Today, man, we hammered it. The pit crew was on it. Dave made some good calls at the end of the race. We got track position, and we made it happen. There's been other days we could have had the same or similar days. Some days things didn't go our way, some of it was bad execution, but in the future looking forward, you've got to -- you can't let it slip. You've got to continue to grow, build on this moment. We've got it going right now obviously with the car and what we're doing, but we've got to continue to get it better and continue to get our program better. We've hired a lot of great people, but there's -- hopefully with this win I'll boost more people to want to come over and work with us and continue to get this program stronger.