Erik Jones shows poise, posture after record win
November 13, 2013, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Erik Jones showed up at the NASCAR headquarters on Wednesday afternoon -- a day when temperatures barely hit 40 degrees -- dressed in a Kyle Busch Motorsports short-sleeved polo shirt, a pair of jeans and not much else.
He swears no jacket was necessary because he's from Michigan, but there's more to the story. The kid's got ice water running through his veins, proven Friday night when he became the youngest winner in the history of NASCAR with his Lucas Oil 150 victory at Phoenix International Raceway at just 17 years, 5 months and 8 days old.
"It's started to sink in finally," said Jones, who led more than half the race's laps on his way to the checkered flag. "Being able to get a win in the Truck Series is something that's pretty special to me and just being able to say that you won a NASCAR race is something that's pretty cool. It's something that I've wanted to do for a while. Being able to win in a NASCAR series and to be able to do it at 17, in our first year in a truck, was pretty special."
By earning his first NASCAR victory, Jones overtook fellow Truck Series driver Chase Elliott in the record books. Elliott previously held the mark for youngest victor after winning earlier this season at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park at the age of 17 years, 9 months and 4 days.
"I talked to Chase after the race really quick and he said congratulations. We talk off the track quite a bit. He's definitely a guy I think I'll be racing against for a long time."
Oh, and Jones' win? It came in just his fifth career NASCAR start and just so happened to be his fifth straight top-10 finish in the No. 51 KBM Toyota Tundra. But if the fact that he's been so successful, so quickly surprises you, you haven't been following the sport closely enough.
In addition to a successful late model career that started before he was even out of middle school, Jones took home the 2012 Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., besting his current boss -- Kyle Busch, who finished third -- and earning himself a contract after the Sprint Cup Series driver was blown away by the phenom's poise. That poise was on full display again at Phoenix and is bound to continue to soar as Jones works his way up the ranks.
Despite all these accolades -- and the fact that he's clearly shown he can hang with the big boys -- the mentality remains in some of his peers that he's just another reckless kid behind the wheel.
"Talking about earning respect, it really goes back to when I was in late models. I was 13 at the time and you're racing guys who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Racing those kind of guys, they look down at you. They see a 13-year-old kid coming in here and they automatically really label you," Jones said. "In every new series you get in, I think you have to earn respect from guys that have been in the series for awhile and veterans of the series. You really need to race them a little different at first. You can't just go out and be super aggressive, it's just the way the sport is and I've tried to earn people's respect from Day 1."
Phoenix should go a long way for that, already catching the eye of some of the sport's heavyweights via Twitter.
"Mark Martin said "good job" and that's pretty awesome when you see a tweet from a guy like Mark Martin, saying good job. He's definitely a guy I've looked up to growing up and being able to look up to him as a race car driver and a guy that's had a lot of success, coming from the Midwest super late-model scene kind of, as I have. I've liked really that part of it and kind of coming up the same way in late models and it's just cool to see a guy like that saying congratulations."
@markmartin Thank you very much!— Erik Jones (@erik_jones) November 9, 2013
With Jones' 2013 NASCAR season wrapped up (Busch is in the 51 in this weekend's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway) the focus turns to next season, where things are still shaking themselves out. For now, he's in no rush to move up -- a testament to his patience, a rare quality in a 17-year-old -- and hopes to start around 10 races for KBM in 2014.
As he grows older each day, Jones won't have a chance to break the record he set Friday, but if Phoenix was any indication, it'll be the first of many to come.
ERIK JONES.. Enough said #diggin tonight— JOHANNA LONG (@JOHANNALONG) November 9, 2013
Congrats @erik_jones Good job— Jeff Burton (@JeffBurton) November 9, 2013
It's so cool to see all of the young talent in our sport today!— Jeff Burton (@JeffBurton) November 9, 2013
Ahhhhhh @erik_jones!!!!!! Congrats!!!!!!!!! So happy for you guys!!!— Samantha Busch (@SamanthaBusch) November 9, 2013
@erik_jones is the real deal... Great job and congrats!! 🏁— Rodney Childers (@RodneyChilders4) November 9, 2013
Brendan Gaughan on Erik Jones: "Kid looked like Kyle Busch tonight." Of course, he was driving that No. 51 KBM truck.— David Caraviello (@dcaraviello) November 9, 2013
Rough night for us after the spin, big congrats to @erik_jones tonight! Well deserved, that first one feels good!— Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) November 9, 2013