Erik Jones has less than a month before he suits up for the return of on-track activity in the typically sunny climes of Daytona Beach. Until then, he’s savoring some of the cooler temps in his home state.
Being close to home has its advantages, such as Jones’ appearance Tuesday as the special guest of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. Jones, 22, took in the team’s morning skate at Little Caesars Arena ahead of the Red Wings’ home game Tuesday night against the Anaheim Ducks.
Jones showed off a new Detroit jersey with No. 20, matching his car number with Joe Gibbs Racing. Red Wings players received replica racing helmets as part of the gift exchange.
“Every sport’s different and it’s neat to see how each one operates,” said Jones, who did his part to cross-promote NASCAR’s two stops this season at Michigan International Speedway. “I’ve had a chance to be around some football teams and I’ve had some chance to be around some baseball players, but never really hockey. Down in North Carolina, they don’t have a lot of hockey going on, so I get to come back to Michigan and see that. It’s cool to see their process and how they prepare.”
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For Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams, the preparation has already started for the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 17 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The venue of Daytona International Speedway has already been a mixed bag for Jones early in his career. His previous two appearances in The Great American Race resulted in event-ending crashes, but the track’s most recent race made him a first-time winner with a dramatic triumph in the 2018 Coke Zero Sugar 400.
“For me, it’s such a wild-card every year,” Jones said. “Obviously, we were fortunate enough to win at Daytona in July last year, but it’s still pretty unknown. You have to be pretty lucky along the way to win one of those races, but it’s an opportunity to win for everybody. It’s the Daytona 500. Everybody wants to win it and start the year off on the right foot, and it sure would be nice to be locked into the playoffs after Week 1.
“So that’s our mindset, going in with a chance to win and hopefully going for it. We had a good plan at Daytona in July that worked out well, and we’re probably going to follow a hopefully similar one there.”
Before settling into a groove closer to the stock-car racing hubs of Charlotte and Daytona, Jones says he’s rounding out the rest of his offseason break. As has become customary the last few years, Jones has spent the holidays and extra time off at his family home in Michigan.
While he says he’s anxious to get back to business further south, Jones says there’s a certain ring to the frigid air of home.
“I like the cold. I went snowmobiling last weekend, and I’m going to hit it one more time this weekend and get my fill of cold weather, then I’ll be back down and go to work,” Jones said. “I’m ready to get going now. At the end of the year, I was ready for a little break, but by the end of December and beginning of this month, I was pretty ready to go again. I don’t have any tests or anything this winter, so I haven’t been in a car since Homestead, so I’m ready to get to Daytona and get back going and just be on track.”