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August 8, 2017

Erik Jones

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for taking the time to be with us today. We're joined now by one of the top young talents in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and that's Erik Jones, driver of the No.77 5‑Hour Energy Extra Strength Toyota for Furniture Row Racing. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender is one of several top drivers fighting for a precious playoff spot as we head back to Erik's home track for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400. Erik, how excited are you to get back to the Irish Hills and enjoy the support from the fans in your home state?
ERIK JONES: I'm really looking forward to it. I actually came home to Michigan after the race Sunday in Watkins Glen, and spending the week up here, so just cool to be racing at home. I stay at the house I grew up in when I come to race here. Just neat to be there. A lot of friends and family come down and support me at that race, and it's really‑‑ for some it's the only one that they can make it to throughout the year, so looking forward to that, and hopefully have a good run for them.

Q. Erik, is it true you received your high school diploma from Swartz Creek at a motor speedway? And what was it like growing up in Michigan, and how did it shape your racing career?
ERIK JONES: What was the second part, what was it like growing up in Michigan?

Q. Yeah, and how did it shape your career racing?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, so the first part is true, yeah. I graduated from Swartz Creek in 2014, and I got my diploma at Texas. It was the same night I was supposed to graduate back here in Michigan. I was racing a truck race there on a Friday night, so they were kind enough to give me my own little graduation.
But growing up in Michigan, I would say the racing here is actually really driving the short track world and everything else. There's a lot of big race fans up here, and growing up around here, I actually had a lot of racetracks within an hour, hour and a half of my house, not only for quarter midgets but for late models and street stocks, as well, when I started really moving up the ranks there. It was really cool just to grow up in an area that I had so many options to race at, and it really gave me a lot of places to kind of hone my skills.

Q. Working on a story about despite sitting in a car for three or four hours driving, it's really a strenuous activity. During some of these summer races, can you explain how, I guess, strenuous maybe it is, maybe how much weight you lose and what you feel like after a race?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, it's pretty taxing on your body when we get into these summer months here, July and August. It gets really hot, obviously.
We sweat a ton. We lose a lot of water weight. I've never actually weighed myself before and after a race, but I've seen guys who do it and they usually lose around eight to ten pounds, so it's pretty crazy. When you're all done, I'm definitely worn out for a little bit. Physically you're drained and dehydrated, and mentally you're pretty taxed out, as well. Usually the focus that it takes to run these races is at a really high level because they are so long. When you're running for three hours, the amount of focus it takes to hit your marks for that long and try to be fast is really high. It's definitely a more physical sport, mental sport than I think a lot of people maybe give it credit, but it's something that we do prepare for.

Q. What is the best way to recover that you've found? Is it drinking stuff with like electrolytes and stuff like that?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, for me that's always been the best, Gatorade and plenty of water. I've actually felt like I've done a really good job over the last year of being hydrated really well before the race. I'll try and start drinking a lot of water on Thursdays and Fridays, and then by the time Sunday rolls around, I'm usually pretty well hydrated. As long as you do that and you really focus on your hydration throughout the latter part of the week, I think the recovery comes along with that.

Q. Given how many years of experience you gained in trucks and XFINITY, do you feel like there's a sweet spot for how much it takes to be ready for Cup? And secondly, how important was Branden Lines to your career growing up?
ERIK JONES: Well, the first part of the question, I don't think there's ever a sweet spot for experience wise moving up to Cup. It's just such a big step altogether that there's nothing in the truck or XFINITY Series I think that fully prepares you for what it takes to really be successful at the Cup level. I think it's been just really a whole year of relearning for me, not really relearning but just learning more about the Cup Series and what it takes and how to race these guys. Even racing them in XFINITY, racing the Cup guys in XFINITY, you still don't get the full aspect of Cup racing and how challenging it is. I don't think there's a sweet spot.
Branden for sure was a huge part of my career. I started working with him in 2011 I believe was our first year we worked together when he spotted for me, and he was actually the guy who got me an opportunity in 2012 to go to Nashville and shake down Kyle Busch's late model. He was there and flying back and forth between Nashville and Talladega for the Cup race that weekend. So I went there and really a lot of that was through Branden Lines, who had a good relationship with Chris Gabehart, who was the crew chief of the super late model team at that point in time. He's done a lot for me. Really I think was a big part of that opportunity that I got at KBM. I don't know without running that test that day if Kyle really would have thought as much of me after the Derby.

Q. When you were about 16 years old, you started to take life on your own, and you bought a condo and then you started to pay all your bills, and then you realized that life isn't so easy, it's kind of tough. Who do you lean on the most to help you make proper decisions in your life?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, it is a lot different. When I moved out at 16, it was a pretty big step, pretty big learning curve for myself. You know, for a long time, obviously, it was my dad. He was kind of the guy that for me had the‑‑ had all the answers for everything that I was trying to go through. You get into racing more and more, and you kind of learn more about the business side of it, and you almost have to be more of a businessman yourself than race car driver at times. He was a big help for me.
Nowadays, since my dad passed away, a lot of it is leaned on to Alan Miller. He is an attorney that's helped me out for a long time. He started helping me in 2010, and he has a wealth of knowledge about racing and not only racing but life away from racing and finances and how to manage everything. He's definitely the guy now when I have questions that I go to.

Q. Isn't it funny how your parents get smarter as you get older?

Q. Also, you have a one‑year contract with your current team; what about 2018, is there someone you'd like to talk with to sign up a new contract?
ERIK JONES: So I'm actually going to the 20 car next year. We announced that a few weeks ago, so I'll be doing that next year with JGR. I'm looking forward to it, really. I think it's going to be a pretty good opportunity for myself, obviously, with Joe Gibbs Racing. Should be pretty fun.

Q. As you start getting ready here to race at your home track this weekend, what's your favorite memory? What are some favorite memories that kind of stand out about going to MIS, whether it be as a driver or as a kid?
ERIK JONES: So it's funny, I didn't go to MIS a ton when I was a kid. I actually only went a few times because we were racing. You know, I did go down there a few times. It was always just my dad and I, so that's always a fun memory for me to look back on and think about. Obviously my dad was a race fan, and to share that time with him down there was pretty fun.
My first truck race there was a cool day, as well. That was my first time ever at MIS, so I always kind of remember that day and hold it a little special. Just first race, the home track, it's always kind of cool. I felt like I had to wait forever to get to run there with the age restrictions of NASCAR, but it was really cool to make my first start there.

Q. And the second part was we talked on pit road at Pocono a couple years ago. You said execution is what it's going to take for you and your team to get in the playoffs. With four races left before the playoffs start, how much more or less pressure is on your team to make the playoffs?
ERIK JONES: Well, I honestly think there was a little bit more pressure when we were in the scenario to point our way in because we obviously had to really be on our game every week and keep those points coming at us. But after New Hampshire we had that flat tire and ended our day, the pressure was kind of off. The only shot we have now is to win a race.
Obviously it's a huge goal to make the playoffs, and I know we're capable of it. We've just got to go out and make it happen, and it goes back to execution. I mean, we've had fast race cars at multiple number of races, we just haven't put the whole day together, whether it be we didn't qualify well or we qualified well and had a bad stop late or whatever else. It's just going to take putting an entire weekend together. It starts on Friday and ends with a good day on Sunday.

Q. Talking about the jump up from XFINITY to Cup, what was something that stood out this year, even with your experience in XFINITY and trucks, that was kind of eye‑opening on the Cup side as something that you needed more work on or just something that even for your experience in XFINITY and trucks didn't quite give you that preparedness for something in particular or what it would be like at the Cup level?
ERIK JONES: Well, I really think the preparation is kind of where you don't get that experience in XFINITY is the preparation that it takes, and really how busy your week is in general. You get to the Cup Series, your week is slammed, and you don't really ever experience that when you're in the XFINITY or the Truck Series.
You know, going back, I wish I would have learned to study and prepare more for the weekend because I never really did when I was in XFINITY and truck. I just kind of learned more about that and still am trying to learn more about that as the year goes on.

Q. I also wanted to ask you, in this year where you're experiencing things for the first time in the Cup level, what was it like for you to be at your first Daytona 500? What stood out to you, whether it was something in the car on the warm‑up laps or the grid before you get in the car, riding in the pickup or the fans the night before? What was it like for somebody that had worked so hard to climb up the ranks and then be ready to start your first Daytona 500? What was that experience like or what stood out most to you?
ERIK JONES: I think the glamour of it all. You hear about it and you see it on TV, but until you really get there and see‑‑ I had been to the Daytona 500 but obviously not as a driver. So to go there as a driver and really see the glamour of it all and see how spectacular is really is was kind of a shocker for me. It's just being on pit road and standing there before the race and seeing how packed the stands were and all the celebrities that were there that day was just pretty neat. That was kind of the big thing that stood out to me. It's like, this is it. This is a big deal. You don't really get that, that feeling until you're really there and you're getting ready to do it.

Q. Was it a nervous type of energy? Compare it to other sports that you look at whether it's standing for National Anthems, you see guys moving back and forth. Is it a nervousness in the stomach or is it you're a racer, you've done this all your life, it's just another race type of thing?
ERIK JONES: Well, I think it's a little bit of each. You know, we're all racers and feel like we're professionals, and it's our job to go out there and do that, but you're still nervous, especially at Daytona there's so many things that are kind of out of your control. You really start to kind of wonder about that and try to think about how you're going to go about your day, so you're really just kind of thinking through the whole weekend. At Daytona it's a two‑week event, so you're really thinking through the whole Speedweeks and the time that you're there and the preparation that went into it and trying to figure out how you're going to have the best day you can.

Q. I have two questions for you. Firstly, as you guys head back to Michigan, I noticed that Toyota has really stepped up their game and you guys have basically led a lot of laps, gotten a lot of wins. Having seen your teammate Martin Truex Jr. compile a couple of wins in the summer, how encouraged are you about getting your first Cup win going into Michigan, and secondly, what is the story behind your awesome mullet?
ERIK JONES: Well, number one, I have encouraged. Toyota has really come around here this part of the season I feel like. We've been really strong now for about the last month. We've had some really fast race cars and had an opportunity to win as a whole a number of races. Being in fast race cars is always a welcome opportunity, obviously, and the start of the year we had fast race cars, but they just weren't‑‑ I wouldn't say they were near as good as they are now.
We're getting better and better, and it's definitely my hopes are high for sure to go out and grab my first win.
The mullet started, I guess, around my birthday in May. Everybody was complaining my hair was just really long everywhere, and I was kind of joking that I was going to cut it into a mullet, and sure enough, my cousin was at my birthday party, and she cuts hair and gave me a haircut, so then Sport Clips took it on and I've been going there getting trimmed up, and it's kind of taken on a life of its own.

Q. How long do you intend to keep that mullet around?
ERIK JONES: That's a good question. I don't know. It's awfully long now. It's definitely been getting hot in the car a few times, so I'll see how much longer I can stand it.

Q. Just wanted to ask you with the playoffs coming up here in a few weeks, how much is your team willing to risk maybe a top 5 or top 10 finish to maybe try and steal a win here in the next couple weeks?
ERIK JONES: A ton, a ton. We feel like we've been pretty aggressive on strategy pretty much every week and trying to give ourselves the best shot to win, and we've done a good job of that. We've still gotten some good finishes out of it, but I definitely feel like we're more aggressive on strategy than we were the first part of the year. I think when you look at the schedule we feel like we've got some good tracks coming up. Michigan will be a good one for us, and especially I think we've all got Bristol circled as a team. We ran really well there in the spring. We didn't get the finish we wanted, but we had a really fast race car. We've kind of got that one circled, but the strategy has definitely been aggressive. We're not looking for top 10s. We're looking to try to go out there and snag a win.

Q. Is this about where you anticipated to be when you guys started the season back in February?
ERIK JONES: I would say so, yeah. I think we've had our share of struggles as a group, a new team over at Furniture Row, a second car team. So I think it's been pretty much what I expected really. You know, we as a group have been growing and getting better and better, and we're just trying to each week improve. I think we've done a pretty good job of that. Obviously I wish we wouldn't have had some of the mishaps we've had through the year. I think we've gotten caught up in just really some unfortunate situations and haven't gotten some finishes we wanted, got some DNFs that weren't really our fault. If we could really have those back, I think we'd be in a lot better position for the playoffs right now.
THE MODERATOR: Erik, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today, and thank you, media, for joining us today.

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