By: Ashley McCubbin
When Richard Petty retired in 1992, Erik Jones was not even born yet – as that happened four years later. However, he was able to hear many stories from The King’s prime in the sport, as his grandmother has always been a fan of his. As a result, he has grown to understand the history of the King and the success he had.
It’s why he says, “having an opportunity to get into the 43 car is not lost on me – I know the legion and history.” Through hearing stories and watching video, the most inconic moment that caught his attention was Petty’s 200th start, with the President of the United States being in attendance.
“I always think of the picture on the backstretch at Daytona and the 43 car and Air Force 1 landing, actually. And the history of himself,” Jones told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “It’s been cool to hear that history. And even talking to Dale a little bit about some of the stories they had on the road back in the day. I love hearing any of it. It’s pretty interesting to me.”
Despite all of Petty’s success, it has been shocking to not witness the No. 43 visit victory lane since 2014 with Aric Almirola, which is something Jones is hoping to change this season.
The Daytona 500 marks one of the best opportunities to make it happen as Jones’ first career victory came at the superspeedway in 2018. He then backed up his restrictor plate strength last season with a fifth and second at Talladega Superspeedway.
Jones’ says the secret to his success is simple – not overthinking everything, but rather just being smart with decisions of when to make moves.
“When things start getting dicey I feel like we’ve always done a good job of just getting out of the situation and make it to the end of the race,” he said. “That’s been, honestly, some of the success that we’ve had is just being there on the last few laps and waiting for the right time. With a green-white-checkered, which a lot of times is what it comes down to; you kind of throw caution to the wind and go after it and do what you’ve got to do to get to the front. If you wreck, you wreck. I guess that’s kind of the way I’ve looked at it.
“And it’s been fairly successful over the last few times we’ve been in contention to win a few of these superspeedway races in the last year or so. If you keep putting yourself up there and close to getting wins, one of them is going to go your way eventually.”
While he has been successful on the superspeedways, it is worth noting the 500 has not been his best friend with just one finish inside the top-15, a third in 2019. While utilizing the strategy of laying back to avoid the wrecks in past years, Jones feels he has to ensure he doesn’t wait till it is too late to make his move this year.
“There is a point where you have to be in a certain position to have a shot to win,” he explained. “You can’t be five laps to go and running 25th – I don’t see you being able to drive through the field if there’s that many cars left and have a shot to win. So, you have to kind of pay attention to that and put yourself in somewhat of a position towards the end. There’s a point where you have to start taking a risk, right. You may get caught in a big one, you may not, but you have to take those risks to be in a position to try and win.”
If everything comes together and he is able to visit victory lane, it’d not only be the biggest win of his career, but huge for the sport’s history as a whole.
“I’d love for it to be the 500 obviously,” he commented. “That’s our biggest race and then the history of the No. 43 car at Daytona and especially the 500, that would be a dream come true to get that car in Victory Lane there.”