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September 1, 2019

Chris Gayle

Erik Jones

Darlington, South Carolina

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the winner of the 70th annual Bojangle's Southern 500, and that is driver Erik Jones, driver of the No.20 SportClips Throwback Toyota, and we have crew chief Chris Gayle.

Q. Erik, you're just 23 years old. Do you feel your youth and not being around long enough to realize how scary this track can be, do you think that helped with the way you drove Darlington tonight?
ERIK JONES: I think more of it is just the tracks I grew up racing are real similar to this place. I relate this place a lot to a place called Winchester up in Indiana and a place called Berlin up in Michigan, and two different tracks in a lot of ways, but Berlin was really tough on tires, and Winchester I ran a real similar line there actually to what I run here. Most of the time I run a real low line around here, which is a little off, I guess, for most, but it works pretty good for myself. I kind of learned that at Winchester racing late models, and this is the one track where I feel like my short track stuff really transfers over as far as saving tires and managing your stuff.
That's what makes it fun. I've always been a fan of Darlington, and I think maybe my age helped with the fact we finished at 2:00 a.m. more than anything, you know. This is about the time I'm waking up. I feel good right now. No, it's awesome, man. The Southern 500 is one that real high on my bucket list of races to win in my career, and it sure feels good to get one this early.

Q. Erik, a couple years ago you had one at Bristol slip away, and tonight you battled Kyle. Do you feel like you took one back from a couple of those where you were battling with him that got away?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, I guess we're even up now. I think if I could go back and run that race again, I could probably give him a little bit better fight. But you know, it just‑‑ it takes a lot to race with Kyle, right. He's really smart, he's really good, and he's in his prime, man. He was really good in his 20s and now he's matured into his 30s and he's one of the best guys out there if not the best guy, and it takes a lot to beat him, especially when you're in the same equipment. It's never easy to race with Kyle, and he puts up a fight every week, and it was definitely a lot of pressure with him breathing down my neck there for the last, I don't know, 40 laps or so, and just trying to look ahead and not really focus on him, but it does feel like we got a little bit back from him and we're kind of evened up on that now.

Q. Is it a relief? Is the pressure at least somewhat off from everybody asking, when are you going to win, when are you going to win, and watching the other three teammates win now that you finally got one?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, a little bit. We want to win more, right, and there's races throughout the year I thought we could have won. We probably could have won at Bristol two weeks ago, and I made a mistake there. But I guess we made up for it all right tonight.
It's just a tough series, right. We're in the most challenging motorsports there are in the USA, and racing these guys every week is not an easy feat, and Kyle and my teammates are some of the best guys in the sport, not only Kyle but Denny, Martin. They're tough to beat, and they have the same stuff I have, and vice versa, I have the same stuff they have but they have a wealth of experience on me. So I'm trying to do everything I can and apply everything I've learned in three years, and it took every ounce tonight; I was pedaling hard at the end doing what I could trying to get a gap and keep them behind me.
It was fun. I felt really calm, honestly, the majority of the race, and especially the last 80 laps. I felt like I was really in control and really knew what I was doing, and there was a couple points down the backstretch it was like, Well, why can't we win it? There's no reason we can't, so just close it out and do it.

Q. Erik, how did you balance the idea that your teammates were winning a lot and you're this young guy who's still trying to find your way in this series? Was it difficult to remain patient until you got to this point?
ERIK JONES: Well, yeah, I mean, it's frustrating in a way, right. You come up‑‑ my situation I was really fortunate to race with really good teams and have really good cars all the way from when I was 16 until I was 20 years old and got in the Cup Series and won a lot of races in a short amount of time. It's not bragging by any means, it's just I was really fortunate. I had good stuff.
You get to the Cup Series and you think you're Superman, it's going to be really easy, and I never necessarily put the work in growing up through the ranks and just kind of did it and took advantage of the good cars.
You get to this level and it's not like that, it's really challenging, and it's definitely the biggest challenge I've had probably in my life. Getting to this level and trying to get to the same level that Martin and Denny and Kyle are at is not easy. It takes a lot of time. You want to expedite that process, but sometimes there's no other lesson than the hard knocks. You have them along the way, and I feel like tonight that last 80 laps was a synopsis of three years, right. Everything I had learned in three years was used in that last 80 laps as far as the aero and trying to run lanes and hold them up and watching where they were going and being patient, knowing when to go hard. Just so many things you're thinking about and processing.
It's interesting to look back for me; the last 80 laps are kind of blurry. I can't remember a lot of it just because you're focused, you're doing, right, you're doing what you're trained to do. I've been trained since I was seven years old to drive a race car left, and when you're that locked in, sometimes things just happen, and that's how I felt.

Q. It was one of those runs where Kyle really got out ahead of you, maybe one or two, three seconds, and it looked like you were having trouble catching him, and then once you and Larson got ahead of him off pit road, it seemed like he was kind of stuck behind you two guys. I guess only he would know, but do you think that was maybe a clean air thing? Was that more of an issue, or did you really gain on your car enough to where you could stay ahead of him?
ERIK JONES: Both. Our car was a lot better in the run before and especially on the last run afterthe ‑‑ was that a green flag stop? Yeah, so after the green flag stop, we were just spot on. Honestly, I don't even know what I would have told Chris to make the car better that last run. We hit it right on the head, and I knew on that restart it was crucial to get the lead. We were aggressive with the 42 trying to clear him, and probably weren't quite clear in 1 and 2, but I knew we had to get out front and set sail. It had been a challenge to pass all night, and I knew if I get out front you can control the race a little bit more.
I think it was a combination. I think our stuff was a little bit better, but also having that clean air for the first time and being out front and being able to control the race more was a big part of it, too.

Q. Erik, you've never finished worst than eighth here. Do you feel that Darlington is one of your stronger racetracks, and did you come into this weekend expecting such a strong performance?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, I'm coming for Denny's throne. That's what I'm trying to do.
No, I don't know. Darlington is funny for me. I've never really listed it when people ask me my favorite tracks, it's never on that list. But I've always felt comfortable here, other than maybe my first start in Xfinity was a little rocky. The Cup races have been really smooth and we've had good cars. I've felt like I've really been able to work the track my way and get our cars handling the way I want them to, and Chris has done a good job with that, too, making them drive a little bit different way around here and get them good. Darlington, I mean, I can't say I love it, but it's definitely a place I enjoy coming because it reminds me so much of the short track stuff. Even though it's over a mile long, you use so many finesse tools, and it's a rhythm track. It's a big rhythm track, and you're just trying to find the grip and move around, and it just reminds me of growing up. You save your stuff and you try to be there at the end and make a charge, and if you can get out front and command the race and really set the pace, that's where you want to be.

Q. Chris, you guys were headed for the playoffs, were in good playoff position even before tonight. What does it say about JGR that all four teams are going to be entering the playoffs with victories and some momentum?
CHRIS GAYLE: Yeah, it for sure speaks to the strength of our organization. You know, speaking for the 20 team themselves, we want to go in with a win, and that's the big thing. I think that's what feels so good to me right now is to not have to points our way in. Obviously we've sat around and watched the other three guys winning four races and wanted to be a part of that, and it's been an up‑and‑down year where various things have kept us from reaching our potential, but I think if you look over the last eight to ten weeks, there's only been a couple of races that we haven't been in contention to get that win every week. We've been talking about that. That's just what we focus on, doing that every week, and we're going to get those wins, and more are going to come.

Q. Erik, with the paint scheme and this being your 100th start, how much weight does this win have for you?
ERIK JONES: I don't know, it's kind of odd, right? I've never been big on numbers in some ways, but 100 starts is pretty cool. I mean, to be in the Cup Series for that long now, it doesn't feel long, but I guess 100 is a lot.
I don't know, kind of a weird situation, right, 100th start and I throw back to myself, which I guess some people didn't really appreciate that much, but I thought it was cool, so whatever. And I guess it worked out.
I mean, it's really cool for me to see that car in Victory Lane, especially in a Cup race. I mean, I picked out the scheme for that car when I was 13 years old. We got a late model and I'm like, this is how I want it to look. I like black and red and I want it to look like that, and to see it on that Cup car is pretty special, and to have it in Victory Lane, right, at Darlington in the Southern 500, that's a pretty cool moment.
Things work out like that sometimes I guess in life, and it's just one of those things that happened to be right.

Q. Erik, middle part of the race you had a pretty good battle with Kyle Larson for the lead at that time. Obviously you've been in the sport for a while and raced him at times, but I really don't recall you really having quite a duel with him for a lead or something like that. What was it like to race him, and how really have you guys had much where you kind of had a back and forth like that even in another position in the past?
ERIK JONES: You know, not in that situation. Farther back, but never for the lead. Kyle is a great race car driver, right; you can't take that away from him at any point, and he's shown that in multiple series, not only at the Cup level but on down through sprint cars and everything else. Kyle is a good racer. He was clean, he was fair. I enjoyed racing with him. We raced hard for sure.
You know, he cut me a little bit of a break letting me clear him up in 1 and 2, and I knew at that point we had to get the lead. I knew if we could get it, we could set our pace. But I enjoyed racing with him. We raced hard. We didn't really give an inch, I mean, much throughout it. But it was fun. I enjoyed it.
It's cool when you get to get out and race hard, right; that's what we love to do is get to get out there and battle with the best of the best, and there's no better feeling than when you're battling with a guy for the lead who is considered one of the better guys in the series, and especially at a place like Darlington I feel like is really one of Kyle's better tracks. It's a good feeling as a driver to get up and get in a battle with a guy like that.

Q. Chris, I know Erik talked about the last 80 laps were kind of a culmination of what he's gotten to this point, but what did you see? In essence what did he do right? How has he grown as a driver? What were things you were seeing? What did you see him in terms of how he put everything together, maybe even the last 150 laps or something?
CHRIS GAYLE: Well, I guess I just would say that he was somewhat calm. I would say that Erik would tell you if there's anything he's probably guilty of doing early in his career, it's probably pushing too hard at certain times, and I think tonight was an example of how he said all his experience over the last threes years. That's what I saw. I saw all of that experience together. I saw him not push too hard and get himself in trouble, work the lap traffic and get through the lap traffic really clean, those type of things that maybe he would have gotten himself in trouble for sure two years ago but maybe a year ago depending on the situation.
I think it's tough to have those two guys breathing down your throat the last 80 laps. There's nobody tougher than those guys, especially here. I mean, it's crazy how good of a job he's done being patient, keeping that thing up front and not overdriving it, not getting into the wall. Pretty much Kyle ran into the wall trying to catch us pretty much.

Q. And Erik, I guess how has that patience come through because obviously you were just talking about you were racing Kyle Larson hard and felt like you had to be aggressive, so the balance there? And I guess also the second thing is your first two Cup wins were at Daytona and Darlington; there aren't many people that can say that.
ERIK JONES: Yeah, I mean, as far as the patience goes, I mean, you live and learn, right, and Bristol was a big lesson for me as far as just being patient. It's hard to look back on it because it's like, I had a car that could have won. We had by far I thought the fastest car that day, especially on the long run. We really excelled past lap 30, and I was pushing hard to keep the lead. And at Bristol, right, that doesn't really matter, I just wanted to keep ahead and have an easier run to the end.
Darlington here today it mattered a little bit more, but you've got to pick and choose your battles, and the one with Larson there was one I felt like was necessary to pick. I felt like if I got behind him, I don't think we win the race. I think we've run a multitude of things, air, stuff to pass. This package is really tough to pass with here. I felt like tonight was a really big struggle as far as the package itself and making our way forward. We made some passes on the very long runs in the race that we had and some on pit road and were able to position ourselves up front, but I knew if we got behind him, he was just fast enough he would have been able to defend. He's a good enough driver; he's going to defend the same way I did him and Kyle, right. He's just going to start running wherever I run. That's the part where I felt like you had to be aggressive, and then when we got up front and got that gap, be patient. You work the lap traffic hard, you try to be aggressive there, and that's an opportunity to gap those guys and hope they catch them in a bad spot.
But I don't think I‑‑ I never even ran the wall until 10 to go. I mean, I brushed it with four to go maybe. So I never even pushed it to that extent until it was absolutely I felt like necessary to go up there and at least start to feel it out and get an idea of what I was going to have to do to hold Kyle off.

Q. And winning Darlington and Daytona?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, I mean, it's pretty crazy, right? They both mean a lot to me. This one, it's hard to‑‑ Daytona means a lot, but the Southern 500, man, that's hard to peg anywhere down below that. This has got to be probably the top win of my career. The first one is big. There's a lot of wins I've had in my career I felt like were really special, but this one has got to be at least tied for No.1 for me. The Southern 500 is a race that is the top three in my list for sure, and to get a win here this early in my career, it really means a lot to me. I'm not a hugely emotional guy, but it definitely does mean a lot to me.

Q. Erik, the pre‑race pizza, what was on the pizza, where did you get it from, and are you now going to be eating more pre‑race pizza?
ERIK JONES: No, probably not, not eating more I would say. No, we were sitting in the bus ‑‑ we went to Mellow Mushroom the other night, so this is a nice little advertisement for them, but we went there the other night for dinner with some friends and took home a bunch of leftover pizza, and I told my buddy Brandon, I'm like, I'm starving. It was like 8:30. I said, We need to eat something. So I threw some supreme pizza in the microwave and cranked it down, and Daniel Hemric said I was going to be hurting, so I guess I can still tell him I have an iron gut, and I'm going to run on it as long as I can until it runs out. It worked out good.

Q. Are you feeling good?
ERIK JONES: I feel great. I feel great. I don't expect I'm going to bed anytime soon.

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