Most kids look forward with extreme anticipation to receiving their driver’s license, somewhere around age 16 or so.
That sacred event is a rite of passage — liberation and all that, plus not having to avoid all those orange cones during drivers’ education class (even if drivers’ ed — rightfully or wrongly — is pretty much a dinosaur in the school system these days.
When he was 16 years old, Erik Jones had his ambitions set on a much higher goal than most kids behind the wheel of a car.
Around the time he got his driver’s license at 16, Jones was a full-fledged NASCAR driver, participating in his first race. And now, he has gone from being that full-fledged NASCAR driver to a full-fledged, up-and-coming NASCAR standout.
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With a smile evident in his voice, Jones, all of 19 now, can contend he is a grizzled veteran.
“Heck, there are two or three people older than me racing NASCAR these days,” he said.
That said, Jones is front and center heading into NASCAR’s season-finale races this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After a dominant regular season, Jones only has to finish 15th in the Camping World Truck Series Ford Ecoboost 200 to capture the season-long series title.
At his young age, Jones — after arriving in Miami on Wednesday (by plane, not fast car) — showed some veteran wisdom in summing up Friday’s Truck Series finale:
“I think we will be fast,” he said. But then he wisely added that he doesn’t have to be that fast as he drives his No. 4 Toyota Tundra.
Knowing that the ultimate prize is the season-long Truck Series title, he said, “All we need is a solid day rather than win it. We will be racing conservative-aggressive.”
Jones summed up his burgeoning career with gratefulness in his voice by saying, “I’ve been pretty fortunate for a young guy.”
Jones started racing when he was 7.
“My parents got me into it, and I’ve enjoyed it from the start,” he said. “I am the first generation in the family to go into auto racing.”
What about the danger many assume is associated with the sport?
Jones said his parents have never thought about that, and, “Neither have I.”
Driving trucks — and you had better believe these aren’t your routine pickups that you take your yard clippings to the dump in — takes some driving adjustments, but as Jones put it, “The concept is the same: Go fast.”
But then he allowed, “There are different aerodynamics driving the trucks.”
Jones should know.
He has more than mastered the skill, and if he wins the season title, he would be the youngest winner of the Truck Series title in NASCAR history. Tyler Reddick is the only driver that can reasonably challenge him, standing 19 points behind. Matt Crafton, the two-time defending Truck champion, is in third place but will be eliminated when the field takes the green flag.
Jones has steadily been racing more in the Xfinity Series and also NASCAR’s top tier, the Sprint Cup Series.
Jones’ overall record, which attests to his consistency, in NASCAR driving:
▪ Truck Series (39 races in three years): Seven wins, 32 top-10s.
▪ Xfinity Series (25 races in two years): Two wins, 19 top-10s.
▪ Sprint Cup Series (three races in one year): 12th, 19th and crash.
For next season, Jones will get more rides on the biggest of stages in the Sprint Cup and also a huge dose of Xfinity races.
“We look at Erik as a big part of our future,” team owner Joe Gibbs has said, “and we’ve got a plan laid out in the future.
“There is no question this guy, Erik, is headed for Cup. He’s headed for the Cup and we’ve got a path charted that we think is the best to get him ready and to fulfill his goal of being in a Cup car as quick as we can get him there.”
That’s something that is music to Jones’ ears — well, more appropriately, maybe the whir of a revving engine to his ears.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” Jones said. “More Cup races.”