After winning last weekend’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway, 18-year-old Erik Jones is hoping to keep the momentum going this Saturday in his Nationwide Series debut at Chicagoland Speedway.
But Jones also acknowledges that Saturday’s EnjoyIllinois.com 300 is going to be a “pretty big step” up for him.
“At first, I’m just going to be looking to make laps and get to the end of the race and hopefully running up in the top 10,” Jones said today in a NASCAR teleconference.
“At the end of the day, we’re all race car drivers and we all want to go for the win. I think we’ll be challenging hard to do all we can to run up front and contend, and at the end of the day, I hope we’ll be up there.
“I know we’ve got great equipment and a great team. I’m pretty excited to see what it’s all going to bring.”
Saturday’s race is the first of three Nationwide races this season for Jones in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He’ll also run it at Bristol in August and at Phoenix in November.
JGR Sprint Cup driver Matt Kenseth has made the bulk of the starts in the No. 20 Nationwide machine this year (five Top-5s and nine Top-10s in 11 starts). It’s a solid ride, which will raise expectations a bit for Jones.
But it’s not like he isn’t used to that. The No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra that he drives part-time in the Truck Series (and won with last weekend in Iowa) won the 2013 owner’s championship. This season, Busch himself has won all five of his Truck Series starts in the No. 51.
But for this weekend, Jones will seek to learn everything he can from his JGR veteran teammates about dealing with the challenges of Chicagoland, which are quite different from the ones that he’s encountered on the short tracks.
“All my background is short track racing,” Jones said. “I haven’t had a lot of experience with racing on a mile-and-a-half with how the air works and all that. But definitely, my mindset is open to just trying to take advice from my teammates.
“I’ve got two great teammates there in Elliott Sadler and Sam Hornish that will be there, so definitely going to lean on them a lot and hopefully get a lot of information out of them as to what they do on these tracks and how they race and just try to learn from them.
“They’ve obviously done it a lot longer than I have, and just hopefully I can learn a lot from them and go into the race and learn a lot and come out a better driver than I was.”