12 Questions with Erik Jones (2019)

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Erik Jones of Joe Gibbs Racing. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but are also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?

Well I’m iPhone now; been that way for probably eight years now. I had an Android when they first came out and then I switched to iPhone right after. Back then (the iPhone) was better — I don’t know if they’re better or not now, but I’ve just stuck with it ever since.

Did you know up to this point we have had no Android people all year?

From how many drivers has that been now?

This is probably 12. (Editor’s note: Actually 14.)

All iPhone? I’m trying to think of who would have an Android. Do you have an Android?

No, no. Come on.


2. If a fan meets you in the garage, they might only have a brief moment with you. So between an autograph, a selfie or quick comment, what is your advice on the best way to maximize that interaction?

If I remember when I was a fan and I would go and try to get autographs, I would always just try to say something to a driver, whether it was, “Good luck,” or “Nice job” on this race or that race. I think that means more than any autograph or picture you’re going to take.

Even just going up and a pat on the back — some drivers might not like that, but I don’t mind — and just saying, “Hey, good job,” or “Good luck,” I think you remember that more than any time you get an autograph.

You kind of get into a mode when you’re giving out autographs when you’re not even sometimes looking at who you’re giving them to and you don’t really remember that interaction.

3. When someone pulls a jerk move on the road when you’re driving down the highway, does that feeling compare at all to when someone pulls a jerk move on the track?

For me it probably does. I mean, I’m not a very aggressive driver on the road, but yeah, it feels really similar.

It’s funny to me how bad people road rage on the road. It’s not frustrating for me because during the weekends, obviously road rage is 10 times higher than anything you’ll ever experience on the street. So it’s always kind of funny to me to see people get angry about it.

I just got flipped off last Monday driving down the road. This guy was talking on his phone and he was just in the way. I wasn’t really tailgating him, I wouldn’t say, but he looked up in the mirror and I guess he saw I was just behind him. So I went and passed him on the right and I looked over and him and his girlfriend were flipping me off.

The girlfriend too?

Oh yeah, both of them. It was a combined effort.

What a team they are.

I’ve never seen a team effort like that.

4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?

Probably a couple. I had to get in a car once in NASCAR — I’m not going to say what car it was because I don’t want to get into trouble for this — but I had to get into a car and I put the lap belts on and it was a last-minute deal and the lap belts didn’t fit.

I was like, “Man, I don’t know what to do.” We didn’t have time to change them and they weren’t adjustable. They were sewn belts. So I took them and I just wrapped them up and then put them together and I finally got them tight by wrapping them like a rope. So I pretty much had a rope around each side of my hips — which I don’t know what would have happened if I crashed.

But yeah, that’s probably the weirdest situation, something like you shouldn’t have done safety-wise. Other than that I’ve been pretty good safety-wise. I usually focus on it pretty good.

Were you thinking about that once you started driving? Was it in the back of your mind like, “Uhh…”

Yeah, a little bit. You think about it at first, but once you get racing you kind of zone in, lock in, you don’t think about it. I noticed it later in the race because it was uncomfortable. You kind of had basically a rope around your waist, so it wasn’t the most comfortable thing.

5. If your crew chief put a super secret illegal part on your car that made it way faster, would you want to know about it?

Yeah. I would want to know. I would be upset if we got busted for something I had no idea we were doing on a Sunday after the race. I would just be frustrated, like, “Why didn’t you tell me about this? You could have at least told me and I wouldn’t have been upset if we got busted after the race.” But if we win a race and we get caught for something illegal and I didn’t know, it would be frustrating.

Because you’d be blindsided.

You’d be thinking you’re celebrating this big win and have no thoughts (about losing the win). But at least if you knew in the back of your mind after the race, you’re like, “Well…”

You’re like, “I hope they don’t find this.”

“Eh, it might not work out.” That’s why I’d want to know.

6. What is a food you would not recommend eating right before a race and are you speaking with personal experience with this recommendation?

Skyline Chili. Not personal experience, but I know someone that ate it before a race. It was really hot and they had a couple bowls of Skyline Chili and it didn’t go well for them. They finished the race, but it doesn’t sound like it was very pleasant.

This must have been like a Kentucky race or something?

It was a Late Model race years ago and it was in Nashville at the Fairgrounds. It was hot — July or September or August race. Yeah, I’d stay away from it. I usually just eat chicken.

7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?

Yeah, I think there’s life somewhere. I mean, the universe is too big I think to not have something out there. There’s so much we haven’t been to.

But do they race? I don’t know. You think of life out there and you can only think of your own logic, right? It’s human logic how we think. You wouldn’t know how they think. If you’re thinking like us, then they race. I mean, everybody races, whether it’s cars or on foot or anything. Everything becomes a race if you want it to be. So I have to imagine that they do race in some form whether it’s cars or anything they’ve got out there.

8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?

You know, I don’t really talk to the other drivers.


No, not really. I’ll go up and see a couple of my buddies out there, but for the most part I don’t really like making small talk. Most people that know me know that, so I just don’t enjoy going up there and being like, “What’s up man? How’s your week been? What have you been up to?”

I’m trying to go race. I mean, I always tell people (about being at the track) that I’m at work. Like I’m here working. It’s fun — I love to race — but I take it pretty seriously.

I’ve never been one to make small talk, but when we do, it’s usually about the car. If it’s one of my buddies, we’re talking about next week, maybe we can get together, grab dinner, go golfing, get out on the lake or something. Pretty small talk.

I’m kind of picturing your approach is like when I get on an airplane and I really do not want people to talk to me.

I’m the same way.

If people start I’ll kind of be like, “Yeah, uh huh, that’s right.” And then I’ll just kind of put my head down. So if you are at driver intros and somebody comes up to you and tries to strike up a conversation, are you just kind of like, “Yup, yup…”

Yeah, pretty much. I’ll go with it. If it’s someone I like, I’ll talk to them. But there’s some guys I don’t like, so I’m not going to like strike up a fake conversation with them just to be cordial, I guess.

But yeah, I’m the same way. I get on an airplane, I’ll just put headphones on right away. Hopefully I’m the first one in the row, and I just throw the headphones on and be done with it.

9. What makes you happy right now?

Right now probably my dog (Oscar), he makes me happy. My girlfriend (dirt racer Holly Shelton) makes me happy right now. Those two things are good for me I think.

Oscar’s been a really good addition since for almost the last two years now, and I’ve just enjoyed having him around — especially at the track. I get a lot of weekends by myself here, so it’s nice to go back to the bus at the end of the day and just see someone who doesn’t care what happened during the day. They’re just happy to see you, right? So that’s always kind of nice for me.

And your girlfriend’s kind of a badass.

Yeah, she’s a good race car driver. She’s not here this weekend (this was recorded at Talladega); she’s actually racing in California in the Outlaw kart stuff.

So that’s pretty cool and it’s been nice to have her around, to have someone that kind of understands the racing world and what goes on. If you have a bad day, they know how to handle that because she’s been in that situation and it makes things a little bit easier.

Do you ever get to watch her race? Do you get to go to her races?

I haven’t actually been to one. I watch her online. She’s actually racing tonight and I’ll be streaming it on my phone here after qualifying, so that’s kind of cool. Hopefully I get the chance to see her in the Indy one — she’s going to do hopefully the midget race there.

10. Let’s say a sponsor comes to you and says, “We are going to fully fund the entire rest of your racing career on the condition that you wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig in every interview you do as long as you’re driving.” Would you accept that offer?

Just during the interview?


So like right now, or…?

I guess on TV, you’ve got to have that clown nose on, you’ve got to have the 80’s rocker wig on. But they’re going to fund you so you never have to worry about sponsorship again.

I could walk around pretty normal. Yeah, I guess I’ll do it. A TV interview is what, 45 seconds? I’d put it on for 45 seconds a couple times a weekend, and if that’s what it took. I guess you’re probably going against some moral standard in a way in some people’s minds, but yeah, I’d do it. Why not?

11. This is the 10th year of the 12 Questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past year’s series.

How about 69?

This is the second straight interview that somebody’s picked 69.

Really? (Laughs) You want me to pick a different number? I don’t want to do the same question again.

I was going to make a different question anyway. I had good intentions to assign a number to every question and now I’ve just been pulling random crap out of my butt.

That makes sense. It makes the interviews better anyway, right?

This is something you’ve answered before in 2015, so I wanted to compare your answer now. What is your preferred method with dealing with an angry driver after a race? (Editor’s note: This was recorded before Jones clashed with Clint Bowyer after the Kansas race.)

I feel like my answer’s probably going to be pretty close. For the most part, if they’re mad at me, I’ll try to shoot them a call if I can. But for the most part, it’s not going to make things a lot better. If I can see them after the race, I will.

I haven’t made anyone mad in a long time, which has been nice. There have been a lot of people that made me mad. I’ve had guys call me right after the race, it’s like, “Honestly, I don’t want to talk to you right now.” So I’ll wait a couple days and try to get ahold of them. But a lot of times it doesn’t seem like it’s going to help. But if they want to talk, I’ll talk.

What did I say then?

Back four years ago, you said basically it would be nice to call. You had just had an incident with Ryan Blaney, I guess this is Truck racing at the time, and you said you guys had talked about it and you respected him for that. So probably over the years you’ve realized it doesn’t make a difference.

Yeah, so that’s pretty early in my career still and now I’ve kind of realized it’s like, man, you talk to them and then they kind of yell at you for a minute on the phone. It’s like, “I don’t know if you feel better or not” — I mean they’re still going to be mad at you next week when we go racing. You’re not going to get raced very good.

And then I’ve had more incidents with guys who don’t ever call me. So it’s kind of like now you kind of just move on. It’s racing. You race so much in the Cup level that you can’t pick every battle each week to go out and try to fix.

12. The last interview was with Tyler Reddick. He wants to know about 2015 when he was running against you for the Truck title. His question was: That year, you had really fast trucks and you had a dominant season in the end but you didn’t win until June of that year. So what clicked for you that season or what did you have to find within yourself to finally win that season and then how were you able to keep that up and go to the championship?

Well that year was odd. We had really good trucks all year, really from start of Daytona to the end of Homestead. And for me it was like, man, things just wouldn’t come together. It was one of the hardest years I had in terms of having a lot of speed and not being able to put the whole race together.

We came really close. That was the year Kasey Kahne just beat us at Charlotte. Kansas we ran out of fuel leading; we led the whole race with two or three to go. There’s a lot of races at the start of the year where it’s like you’re just missing out.

And then we got into a situation where I felt like I started pushing too hard and making mistakes, get myself in trouble, and I actually sat down with Kyle (Busch, his team owner at the time) and talked to him about it.

I was like, “We have really fast trucks and this and that, what do I need to do?” And he said, “You just need to think now that you can just top-10 it every week, and if you can top-10 these races every week, not only are you going to win some of them along the way but you’re going to win the championship.” And then I’m like, “Well, that’s probably right.”

So we switched our mentality, I did, even Rudy (Fugle) did, my crew chief at the time, and went into the races more of just saying, “Let’s top-10 them. Let’s stop getting into this mode where we know we’re fast, quit trying to go out and just lead every lap and dominate the races. If we can win and those days are allowing that to happen, then let them come to you. But if it’s a day where you need to run sixth and things aren’t going your way, take that sixth.” And that’s what we weren’t doing at the start of the year.

So it turned around for me and the wins came with that and even at some places where I wouldn’t have thought we would have won at. But it just kind of worked out from that point forward.

You’re off the hook for a question for the next guy because the next one is going to go into the Indy 500 and I had to already do the Indy interview for that. So you don’t have to think of one.

That’s good. It’s hard to come up with questions. I struggle with that anyways.

Previous 12 Questions interviews with Erik Jones:

— April 21, 2015

— Sept. 21, 2016

— June 21, 2017

May 29, 2018

Cleaning out the Kansas notebook

NASCAR’s new media availability model continues to provide more interviews and content than I know what to do with. In an effort not to waste it, here are three of the most interesting notes and nuggets from Friday.

Kyle Busch’s terrifying moment

Brexton Busch, who turns 4 years old this month, was riding one of those 4-wheelers for kids this week when he suddenly flew off and hit his head — briefly knocking him unconscious.

His frightened dad witnessed the entire thing.

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen — to see your son lying there, lifeless,” Kyle Busch said on Friday.

Kyle had taught Brexton to ride the 4-wheeler, saying it was OK to go fast in a straight line but reminding him to let off the gas and use the brake while turning. Brexton did just that for an hour with no problems and seemed to be comfortable.

But when Brexton’s friends suddenly darted off in one direction, Brexton tried to follow and forgot the instructions about slowing down. He tipped up onto two wheels and then flew off the machine, hitting his head.

Kyle immediately ran to the scene and took his son’s helmet off, squeezed Brexton’s face and scanned for signs of life. Fortunately, Brexton took a couple deep breaths; Kyle yelled for someone to get a bottle of water to pour on his son.

Brexton woke up crying and shaken up, and had to spend the night in the hospital. But he was OK — thanks to the full-face helmet.

“Thankfully, it was only about 10 seconds and he came back to,” Kyle said. “He doesn’t remember all of that going on, which is a good and bad thing, I think. It was a good damn thing he had his helmet on, because he might not be here.”

Said Kyle of the terrifying moment: “There’s nothing else like it. I don’t wish it on anybody and I certainly don’t want to see it again.”

Bubba Wallace’s reality

It’s been clear for awhile now that Bubba Wallace is the most real, raw driver when it comes to openly showing his emotions. He’s unable to hide how he feels or fake anything, good or bad.

So when he’s experiencing tough times in life, Wallace can’t cover it up and put on a happy face. That’s just not his reality right now.

That was never more evident than Friday, when Wallace could barely speak and kept his eyes downward during a six-minute interview with a group of reporters. He ultimately broke down in tears before his public relations representative led him away.

Anyone who follows Wallace on social media knows he’s going through a rough patch that extends beyond his on-track results. Wallace wouldn’t normally come into the media center, but it was his turn as part of NASCAR’s rotating driver availability this season. He just wasn’t up for it, saying his “mental game is kind of cloudy.”

“I’ll be damned if it all goes away when you get behind the wheel,” he said. “I guess 16 years of driving helps, but it’s tough.”

When we are dealing with sadness in life, most of us don’t have to get through the most difficult days while in the public eye. Wallace does. Did Wallace wish he could somehow sweep his emotions under the rug in order to prevent the world from seeing them?

“You see what you get now,” he said. “I’m on the verge of breaking down and I am what I am.”

With that, he couldn’t speak any further. The tears began to flow. SiriusXM reporter Claire B. Lang put her arm around Wallace to comfort him as he wept and the media session ended.

Fans sometimes view the drivers as larger-than-life, fictional characters engaged in a high-speed soap opera. Wallace is a reminder each of the drivers is just like the rest of us, with problems and struggles that money and fame can’t magically erase.

Erik Jones reflects

Four years ago this weekend, Erik Jones made his first Cup Series start. Kyle Busch was out of the car after breaking his legs in the Daytona Xfinity race that year, and young Jones was called upon to get into the No. 18 car at Kansas Speedway.

The only laps Jones had ever driven in a Cup car to that point were when he subbed for Denny Hamlin mid-race at Bristol a month earlier. Other than that, Kansas was the first time.

“I didn’t find out until real late that I was even going to drive the car that weekend,” Jones recalled. “My dad told me, ‘Just remember you don’t have to set the world on fire this weekend. There’s no expectations, you don’t have to go and try to win the race. As long as you run top-15, that’s a solid day.’”

But Jones was 18 years old with youthful exuberance and said he thought: “Well, I’m just going to go out and win.”

As it turned out, he actually had a shot. Jones said he had no nervousness and felt no pressure, and he raced his way into the top five. But while trying to pass Kevin Harvick, with Jimmie Johnson pressuring him, Jones wrecked.

“I was running the top and just put myself in a bad spot that — at the time — I didn’t really know was a bad spot,” Jones said. “I honestly think if I could run that race over again, we probably would have won it — knowing what I know now.”

But one of the special memories from that race is it came during a time when some of the Hall of Fame veterans from that era were still driving. Tony Stewart was in the race, as was Jeff Gordon — who started right next to Jones.

“(Gordon) started 11th and I started 12th,” Jones said. “I thought, ‘Man, this is pretty cool rolling around for pace laps and seeing your hero growing up.’ Now I’m racing side-by-side with him and that’s a kid’s dream.

“It’s cool to have those memories and they’re ones I’ll never forget. It would be cool some day to be able to tell young guys, ‘Hey, I got to race against those guys.'”

Playoffs Media Day podcast with NASCAR drivers

In this goofy special edition of the podcast, half of the NASCAR playoff drivers took a few minutes on Media Day in Las Vegas to discuss a variety of subjects. Topics include Ryan Blaney’s Twitter emoji, what reporting style they’d use if they became a media member, Kyle Larson’s upcoming mid-playoffs wedding and the proper dress code for a racetrack. The podcast features appearances from (in order): Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman and Martin Truex Jr.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Daytona summer race

Five thoughts after Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway…

1. Jonesing for a victory

Given all the talk this week about one of the younger drivers needing to win, Erik Jones’ first career victory came at a great time. It was one of the more prominent races (Daytona!) and a solid spotlight (first race of the season on NBC’s broadcast channel, a moment so important they brought in Mike Tirico to host).

Fans who probably don’t know much about Jones got to see him light up in the post-race interview and show some personality. That’s an important platform for a young driver who needs to get more exposure.

Seriously, this is great stuff:

Does this change anything? Jones was likely going to be in the playoffs whether he won or not (he’s 13th in the standings). But a victory might do wonders for his mindset; after all, he’s still only 22.

“I’m really expecting even bigger things from him,” crew chief Chris Gayle said. “You get a little confidence in him…we all know we can do it at this level. It just kind of helps you once you kind of get the first win. Everyone in the entire team knows that. So I’m looking for big things. It’s cool.”

Out of all the big name young drivers who have come onto the scene lately — like Elliott, Blaney, Suarez, Wallace, Byron, Bowman, Ty Dillon and Jones — only one of them had won a race so far. That was Blaney last year at Pocono.

So Jones makes it two, and now maybe he has something to build on. NASCAR can certainly hope.

2. They’re wrecking…again

I’m so conflicted about races like these. On the one hand, it certainly was exciting and entertaining. It’s not like anyone watching Saturday night would say, “This is boring!” People in attendance certainly got their money’s worth and the time investment for those at home definitely paid off.

On the other hand, it’s not satisfying to see so many cars wreck in multiple crashes. Seeing a Big One is part of the game at plate tracks, so it would almost feel odd if at least one didn’t happen — like going to a concert and your favorite band not playing their famous hit song. But you also don’t need to hear that song three times in the same concert.

And yet…you can’t deny narrowing the field set the stage for a crazy finish and a first-time winner. So those are positives and added to the entertainment factor.

Then again…sigh. I don’t know, I guess I don’t really have a take here other than I’m glad these races only happen a few times a year. They’re OK in very small doses.

Thrilling and dramatic? Yes. “Racing?” Eh…

3. Ricky has had better nights, but…

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. miscalculated a side draft and took out Kyle Busch and William Byron while they were battling for the lead.

Not good.

Other than that, I didn’t view his night quite as harshly as most others seemed to on social media (and in the stands, judging by the cheers from when he wrecked).

On the first Big One, I’m leaning toward Brad Keselowski’s point of view that Byron threw too big of a block.

As Keselowski spotter Joey Meier tweeted, there’s a fine line between managing a race (with the whole block-and-defend maneuvers perfected by Keselowski, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and others) and throwing a block.

From what I can tell, managing the lead requires moving up and down the lanes to take away the momentum from runs. In those cases, there’s no contact.

But blocking from the lead is when the move is last-minute enough that it leaves the trailing car with two options: Check up and hit the brakes or just drive through the leader.

Keselowski elected to check up, which caused Stenhouse — who had full momentum in the draft — to get into him. That’s why I don’t blame Stenhouse for that one.

Not that Stenhouse hasn’t been guilty of such a move before.

“I thought (Byron) blocked (Keselowski), but I did that here in February and threw an aggressive block down the back straightaway that in turn caused a big crash like that, too,” Stenhouse said. “I can’t be too mad because I felt like I did that in February.”

Stenhouse won two stages, but obviously wasn’t happy about his role in the race (he was officially part of five cautions on the race report) and even made a karma reference on himself regarding Kyle Larson taking him out later due to a cut tire.

“I was frustrated with myself causing crashes like that,” he said. “You don’t ever really want to do that.”

So would he have to do some damage control with other drivers this week?

“No, it’s aggressive speedway racing,” he said. “We needed to win to get in the playoffs, so it is what it is.”

That’s probably true, but unfortunately for him, situations like these often lack nuance. He’s going to take most of the blame for everything that happened Saturday night, even though he’s only partially at fault.

4. Underdogs have their day

In a race like this, there are always going to be some unusual results. Unless I missed someone, it looks like five of the 40 drivers in the race had their best career finishes — including Jones, of course.

Ty Dillon was sixth — his best career finish and first top 10. Jeffrey Earnhardt was 11th, which was the first top 20 of his career. Also, DJ Kennington had his best career result (13th). Ray Black Jr. was in just his fourth Cup race, but he hadn’t finished better than 34th before placing 16th on Saturday night.

There were other underdogs who had great nights, too.

How about JTG Daugherty Racing getting both of its drivers in the top five? AJ Allmendinger finished third and Chris Buescher was fifth, although it was Buescher who really had a chance to win the race.

Buescher, who gave Jones the winning push past Truex, said he thought he could shove the 20 car far enough to leave the two of them to determine the race. Then he planned to nudge Jones up the hill in Turn 3. But Truex side-drafted him and took away his momentum, leaving Jones to streak to the finish line well ahead of them both.

Also, Matt DiBenedetto was seventh, which was the second-best finish of his career and shouldn’t be overlooked. And Brendan Gaughan had yet another solid result at a plate race, finishing in 12th.

5. Points Picture

Erik Jones became this season’s seventh different winner, joining Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Truex, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon.

That means there are currently nine spots available to make the playoffs on points with just eight races left in the regular season.

Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Ryan Blaney are virtual locks.

Jimmie Johnson is currently safe by 54 points, Chase Elliott is in by 37 points and then Bowman (the cutoff position) is 19 points ahead of Stenhouse.

Stenhouse and Paul Menard (-55) are the only drivers with a realistic shot right now of making it on points.

Up next: Kentucky Speedway, where it should be back to the usual suspects running up front.

12 Questions with Erik Jones (2018)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues with Erik Jones, who is in his second year driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. These interviews are recorded as a podcast, but are also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Not a whole lot. Every once in awhile I’ll have one. I guess when I’m really thinking about a given race coming up or thinking about certain things. Maybe I just watched a racing video or something before I go to bed, and then I’ll have a dream about racing. But in general, I don’t remember a lot of my dreams anymore.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

It does and it doesn’t. I’ve had guys that have gotten into me that have apologized and haven’t apologized, and I’ve gotten into guys and apologized and haven’t apologized.

You know when it’s intentional and when it’s not intentional. And if it’s not intentional, honestly, it is what it is. I mean, you’re frustrated as a driver — I’m frustrated if it happens to me — but you can’t be all that mad. It wasn’t their intention to do that, you know they already feel bad enough about it. But if it is intentional, I don’t think there’s much that needs to be said there, either.

I guess there are times where I really feel like if I did something completely wrong, I’ve gone to guys and apologized. But if it’s something small, I usually don’t say anything about it. You just kind of move on.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

Overall, I’d have to say that someone was proud of the work that I was putting into whatever it may be — not only racing, but I think just anything that I was up to in life. Just proud of the work that I was putting in at that point in time, the effort was paying off and it was helping everybody and better for everybody. That would be a big compliment to me.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host at a race?

Matthew McConaughey. I’m a big Matthew McConaughey fan, so that’d be pretty cool. I think he’d like it too. I don’t know if he’s ever been to a race, but that would be kind of neat.

It seems like he would. He seems like he’s kinda got the Southern relatability going on.

I think he’d just be a guy who would kind of sit back and not be a big ego guy. He’d kind of just be along for the ride and really want to take it all in and explore. So I think that’d be pretty neat.

5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

No. No way. No. I couldn’t. I like a salad every once in a while, but not that much.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2016 Fall Charlotte Xfinity race.

That’s a tough one, because we ran second for a long time that day but we had a restart at the end and we didn’t run second. Did we run fourth?

Fifth. That was pretty close.

It was hard to remember because that day, we ran second all day to (Kyle) Larson. We had a caution with like five to go or something. We got shuffled on the restart and didn’t finish as good as we should have.

Wow. Do you remember all races that well, or is this just one that sticks out?

No, that one sticks out. That was the first year of the Xfinity playoffs, and we’d gotten ourselves into trouble about advancing in the next round and we had to finish pretty well that day, and I just remember trying to very conservative. Fortunately, we had a really good car and we just ran really good all day, and when the caution came out, I got nervous because I didn’t want to get wrecked and not advance to the next round.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

It’s hard not to say Eminem. He’s from Detroit, that’s where I grew up — close to Detroit. I’m a big Drake fan, too. Those two guys right there are probably the best ones for me, but I guess if I had to put one above the other, it’d be Eminem. He’s a home state guy for me, so it’s hard not to say that.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Wow. Anybody in NASCAR? I don’t know, that’s a tough question. I feel like somebody’s gonna get mad at me. I mean, the funny one for me to say is Kyle (Busch) because he’s my buddy, and I know people would like that.

I don’t know. There’s probably not anyone I really want to punch in the face right now. I mean, nobody’s really made me mad. I think (Ricky) Stenhouse wanted to punch me in the face after Bristol (when they had an incident), but I told him at Talladega, “You finished good. I spun you out and you finished well, so I can do that weekly if you need me to.” But I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anyone that I have marked down on my list right now.

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

Taylor’s driving the motorhome. Then we’ve got Tom and LeBron. I’ll take LeBron as my spotter because I think he’d be motivational. I think he’d pump me up. I think he’d do a good job. I don’t know what he’s like, but you watch him and he coaches the Cavaliers, as they say a lot.

And I guess I’ll take Tom Hanks on the box. I think he’d be pretty calm and cool and be able to sit back and make some focused decisions. So me and LeBron would be rockin’ it, keeping it pumped up on the racetrack.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

Well, a lot of times Alicia (Deal, Jones’ PR rep) will map one out for me. Sometimes I’ll watch as I go around the track. You can kind of map it out. Sometimes I’ll do it at qualifying — you’ll see right away if they’ve got port-a-potties on pit road. That’s the key. That’s the best racetracks right there.

But if they don’t, that’s when you run into a problem and you’ve gotta kind of find the bathroom back in the garage. That’s when it’s a struggle.

I really try to hydrate a lot the days before so I don’t have to drink much water on race day, which sometimes works, but not always.

But that still means you have to make the stop.

I do, I still make the stop. I get nervous.

11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

Do I have to complete the backflip, or just attempt it?

Just attempt it. It’s up to you.

I don’t need a full rotation?

They just want you to try it.

Oh man. I’d do it for $75 grand. I mean that’s a big number, that’s a lot of money, but yeah, I’d attempt it for that. Into the grass, because I wouldn’t make it.

They might have to pay your medical too, though.

It’d be fine. I’ll ask (Daniel) Hemric for some tips first. He’s good at it. He can do them right on the ground. Like he can do it right here.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Matt DiBenedetto, and his question for you was: Who do you think is the next guy that is going to come up and be the next breakthrough driver in NASCAR?

Like in a lower series?

He said it could be somebody from a lower series who’s going to come up, or it could be somebody who’s around now and is just going to start winning races.

I would say from lower series, it’s Todd Gilliland. He’s really talented. I’ve been impressed with him for awhile. He’s just really good in stock cars. I watched him in Late Models for a long time and he didn’t have a lot of success, but once he got into K&N and Trucks, he’s ran really well.

At our level, at the Cup level, I’d love to say it’s me. I’d love to come and break through and win some races. But I think all of us are right at the cusp of having a lot of race wins. I think myself, Chase (Elliott), Ryan (Blaney), Daniel (Suarez) — all of us are right there and we’re just trying to find that last little bit to really get there and really be super competitive every weekend.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but it’s going to be an IndyCar driver. Do you have a question I can ask somebody in IndyCar?

Is IndyCar racing really about how hard you can possibly drive the car with all the amount of downforce you have — how hard you can actually push? Or is it super finesse?

NASCAR is very finesse, especially with the low downforce. It’s very finesse and very having to back everything up and slow everything down. Is IndyCar more of all-out, high downforce, just getting all you can get, hustling as hard as you can, or are there tracks that you go to that are very finesse? It’d be interesting to me.

Editor’s note: These interviews were posted out of order due to the Indianapolis 500, so Jones’ question has already been answered by Alexander Rossi

Previous 12 Questions interviews with Erik Jones:

April 21, 2015

Sept. 21, 2016

June 21, 2017


The Top Five: Breaking down the 2018 Clash at Daytona

Five thoughts after Sunday’s season-opening exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway…

1. Calm Clash

Well, that was weird. An exhibition race with no points on the line, and most of the field ran single-file as Brad Keselowski led the last half of the race. OK then.

“Who would have thought they’d just run single-file for 30 laps?” said Kevin Harvick, who lost the draft while trying to make a move. “It didn’t all make sense to me.”

As the laps wound down, a few cars tried to take shots at building a low lane to challenge the frontrunners, but it was mostly a failure. They’d just drop to the back if anyone tried anything.

So what happened? According to several drivers, the cars weren’t handling well with the new restrictor-plate rules package, which made it difficult to run side-by-side or three-wide. They actually had to drive the cars — at least more than usual at Daytona — instead of running wide open while playing the typical chess game.

“I know it looks like we were just riding around the top, but we were actually lifting and trying not to run over each other when you get those big runs,” Austin Dillon said.

The new package helped cars suck up much quicker, but they’d hit the invisible air bubble just as hard. Meanwhile, the stability offered by the previous rules package — which made for lap after lap of pack racing as drivers tried to side draft and pick off positions — became a thing of the past.

“They were too much of a handful to race side-by-side and three-wide,” Erik Jones said. “Earlier in the race when we were doing that, I was out of control and just uncomfortable. I had to back out and give everybody some space.”

When a driver would pull out of line, he not only dropped to the back — but actually risked losing the draft altogether. Harvick said he was trying to slow the car in front of him in order to get a run, but he slowed both down that the draft just left them behind.

If a car stays in line, it never loses its momentum. Plus, the cars are running significantly faster than before — Keselowski said he ran a 199 mph lap while leading (not with a run), which was eye-opening.

“I was trying to make moves, but you just have to accept the pack being single-file or you’re going to be at the back of it,” Harvick said.

So that’s it. The drivers wanted to go and were eager to make something happen, but there was no overcoming the momentum deficit with so few cars and a single-file lane up top.

2. Now what?

The big question now is whether the Duels and the Daytona 500 itself will be less than exciting (or whatever term you want to use), as was the case with the Clash.

As Jones noted, the Duels on Thursday night will probably look similar to what fans saw Sunday because it’s an impound race and teams already have their race setups installed — which are close to the setups in their Clash cars.

And the 500? It’s obviously a concern, but Harvick said not to worry yet.

“I’ve seen this a little bit before (in the small field of the Clash),” he said. “It’s just different when you get all the cars out there.”

As for the contenders for the remainder of Speedweeks? Well, it would be a surprise if anyone but a Ford won the 500.

Fords have looked so strong on plate races over the last couple years (they’ve won seven straight plate races!), and they finished 1-2-3-4 in the Clash. What was especially striking was Harvick said his car was comfortable and stable despite losing the draft — which was the opposite of what other drivers were saying about handling.

Logano, too, said his car didn’t feel much of a change from last year after the team made a few adjustments.

“Not as much (change) as I thought it was going to be when I went to sleep last night,” he said.

If that’s the case, the Fords will return to the track Thursday night with a significant edge on the rest of the field.

3. Team orders?

As the Team Penske cars ran 1-2-3 in a line with the laps winding down, you may have wondered to yourself if Ryan Blaney and Logano would just be content to push Keselowski to the win.

No way.

“I don’t know about you guys, but for the last 20 laps, I was in there going crazy waiting for someone to make a move,” Logano said. “I was ready to go.”

Of course Logano and Blaney wanted to win for themselves. It’s just they were in a similar situation as everyone else, realizing they needed help to make something happen.

Blaney eventually tried it and made a move coming to the white flag — but all it did was drop him through the field. That move wasn’t the original plan, but it was perhaps his best option in the moment.

“I feel like I was in a good spot because Joey was behind me, and he would have gone with me for the win no matter where I went,” Blaney said. “I was going to kind of hang out until the lane started to form and then I’d jump out. It just never did.”

Roger Penske and Keselowski agreed if that scenario happened again in the Daytona 500, it would be an every-man-for-himself situation in the final laps (like it was with the Toyotas a few years ago). So there’s little chance all the drivers would have just stayed in line while Keselowski just cruised to a win.

4. Rules are rules

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed below the double yellow line, which is a penalty. You can’t do that.

NASCAR’s rule is it will overlook such a pass if the driver was forced below the line by another driver — but Stenhouse wasn’t.

Stenhouse, his team and a whole mess of people on Twitter argued otherwise, but NASCAR’s call was extremely consistent and fair compared to how officials have called it before.

The 2008 Regan Smith/Tony Stewart incident is the defining moment for this rule. If that wasn’t forcing someone below the yellow line, it clearly must be very obvious for NASCAR to call it.

So you might not like it, but NASCAR made a fair call in this case — which is all anyone should hope for.

Stenhouse had a run coming, but it looked like Busch’s car had already started to move down (Busch said his car got sucked down there and he wasn’t trying to go that low). Could Stenhouse have forced the issue with a wreck? Sure, but what’s the point?

It’s not unlike a driver getting a huge run on the outside and the leader moving up to block. What happens then? If the oncoming driver presses the issue, they’re both in the wall. So most of the time, they back out of it.

Stenhouse tweeted next time he could just turn Busch and wreck the whole field, but he either A) Could have backed out of it or B) If he felt that was impossible given his momentum, he could have given the position back and there would have been no penalty. So it’s not like that was the only option.

5. The new pit stop ballet

NASCAR took away a pit crew member from each team in the offseason, which forced crews to rearrange their choreography. Plus, tire changers now have to all use the same pit gun. There was much talk about how it would look and impact the races — and rightfully so.

But although the stops were significantly slower (FOX said more than four seconds!), it was hardly noticeable.

We probably won’t see the true impact until there’s a “race off pit road” situation at 1.5-mile tracks — where track position really matters. Daytona doesn’t make that big of a difference (although Keselowski did use a two-tire strategy to take the lead).

Overall, though, it just didn’t seem like a big thing. A month from now, we probably won’t even give it a second thought.

NASCAR Media Tour Day 2: Wait, they’re doing what?

Austin Dillon was the first driver to take a seat Tuesday morning on the annual NASCAR Media Tour, and it didn’t take him long to casually break some news.

On the topic of viewing telemetry data from new Richard Childress Racing alliance drivers Kasey Kahne and Bubba Wallace, Dillon said the distribution of information would go further than that.

“Now I can see it from everyone with NASCAR releasing their data,” he said. “The slowest driver can see the fastest driver, what he’s doing with the car — steering, brake, throttle. It’s out there.”

It is?

“So it’ll be big to be able to decipher that information quick,” he continued. “You’re going to be able to see it now, and you’ll be able to see if your car is faster or slower or not as good. I’m excited about that.”

Wait a minute. NASCAR is releasing data to teams about what other drivers are doing with their cars? As in drivers who aren’t on the same team?

Yes, Dillon said. At least that was his understanding.

That was news to the media, along with some of the other drivers.

“I haven’t heard anything about that,” Erik Jones said. “Is that something they’re talking about?”

“That’s brand new to me,” Kurt Busch said.

“Really? That’s interesting,” Matt DiBenedetto said. “That’s the first I’ve heard of that.”

So what’s the truth? Well, NASCAR confirmed later Tuesday morning it will be releasing additional data to the teams this year — but NASCAR emphasized it’s nothing that wasn’t already available publicly through NASCAR.com’s RaceView feature.

That data includes steering inputs, braking, throttle and RPM — not from a GPS, but from the electronic control unit (ECU) that is part of the electronic fuel injection system.

The wrinkle is some teams had apparently figured out how to “scrape” the data from NASCAR.com’s raw feed into their own systems, which they could then use to keep tabs on what other competitors were doing. So as part of the ongoing effort to keep the playing field level, NASCAR decided to just give teams the information instead of having some go through a backdoor method to get it.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It depends who you ask, because the best teams and drivers obviously wouldn’t want others to have their information.

“That’s entirely not fair,” Kyle Busch said. “I’d rather disconnect my stuff to begin with so nobody gets to see it.”

Even his teammates?

“Absolutely,” Busch said. “I’d much rather not have anybody be able to see anything. Even if I’m behind, I feel like I’m better at being able to catch up rather than just handing my data to somebody and saying, ‘Here it is. Here’s how you do it.’ That’s not good.”

Jones, now Busch’s official teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, was able to see everything Busch (and other Toyota drivers) did last year as part of the alliance with Furniture Row Racing. He said it was “great for me,” but understands why it’s not ideal for the top drivers.

“If I was Kyle or Martin (Truex) or Denny (Hamlin), I would be frustrated guys were able to look at exactly what I was doing and copy it,” Jones said. “Obviously, parity is low right now, which doesn’t create a lot of passing. Guys are super close — and that’s going to continue to just tighten that up.”

Of course, DiBenedetto said a small team like his will take whatever information it can get — though it’s not everything.

“(That data) wouldn’t do much to make up for the large lack of budget and aerodynamics and things like that,” he said. “But any resource you can have at this level, no matter what it is or how small, anything we can get our hands on is going to benefit us for sure.”

Media Tour Day 1: No major rule changes coming to NASCAR this year