Feature

Heat of the Moment: Brandon Jones, 19 team brace for Atlanta

By Cole Cusumano

This weekend the NASCAR Xfinity Series will be met with an inescapable hurdle challenge at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Heat. This will be the first time since 1974 the sport will compete at the 1.54-mile track in July, and for good reason. Aptly nicknamed ‘Hotlanta,’ the area has a nasty reputation in the Summertime, something Georgia native Brandon Jones is all too familiar with.

Jones’ initial reaction, like most, was reluctant, but there’s also a sense of comfortability leading into AMS. Although he moved away from Atlanta entering his adolescent years in high school, he feels his roots running as deep as the peach trees across the state will have him better prepared for the competition in the Credit Karma 250.

“I definitely know how hot it’s going to get,” Jones told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “If anything, it’ll help me prepare a little bit better. Being from there and experiencing how hot [Atlanta] can get, I think I’ll have a leg up on how to prepare as far as hydration and things I can do before we get there.”

While there’s no substitute for hydration throughout the week, Jones recently invested in a cool suit as a method to combat the harsh conditions of the Summer stretch. He wasn’t overly impressed using it for the first time at Texas Motor Speedway — which he called one of the hottest races he’s ever driven — but said it’s worked nicely since Nashville Superspeedway.

In terms of preparation for competing in the Summer, the most important practice Jones picked up throughout his young career has been exposing himself to heat throughout the week and staying outdoors as much as possible leading up to the race.

“One thing that’s pretty bad for you is thinking, ‘let’s stay inside the entire week and try not to lose any water and save it up for the weekend,” Jones said. “I think if you can get acclimated to the heat without dehydrating yourself, that’s going to be the key to being prepared,”

Jones expects the Credit Karma 250 from Atlanta to be right up there with some of the harshest races he’s ever driven at Texas and Auto Club Speedway, given the traditional humidity surrounding the area in July.

These conditions should be particularly difficult to navigate for the crew members, on pit road, who will be baking on the asphalt, covered head-to-toe in safety gear. Jones’ rear-tire changer, Jeff Cordero, will be one of the many warriors exposed to these unfavorable conditions. 

Working in NASCAR for 13 years, Cordero feels he has a firm grasp on how to deal with the heat in the trenches, beginning with staying active and raising his heart rate throughout the week to simulate race conditions in the summertime.

“I like getting on a Pelaton, a rower or some kind of endurance equipment and just being able to ride on Thursdays and Fridays,” Cordero told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “I feel like getting that good sweat going kind of gets everything going. It raises your core body temperature a little bit so when you get into the weekend you’ve kind of been exposed to that.”

His week begins with a two-day rehydration process, where he’ll consume three to four jugs of water per day, two of which are packed with electrolytes. This step is crucial following a grueling weekend on pit road for both the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series in terms of nourishment, but also staying motivated.

Luckily for Cordero and his comrades, they have the luxury of setting up fans around the pit box and can utilize shadows as means for a minor escape while backing on the asphalt in fire suits. He realizes the drivers have it much worse with the stagnant heat and humidity trapped inside the car, but knows it’s a “no win situation” for everyone.

“At the end of the day, it just comes down to being in shape,” Cordero said. “The more in shape you are as a general athlete, the easier it is to handle the heat and the adverse conditions we get put in. I think [it]  puts you in a better mental headspace, whereas if you’re not in shape, maybe the heat gets to you a little bit physically, and then it mentally drags you down.”

There’s also a sense of relief for everyone mentally when the team provides a fast car and the driver is hitting their marks smoothly. 

“When you’re having fun, everything just sucks a little less,” Cordero concluded.

Not only will this be the first Xfinity Series race being fielded at Atlanta in July, it’ll be the second time the developmental division stops there this season — something that’s never been done before. Jones sees this as incredibly beneficial and his best opportunity to finally tame his home track by becoming the sole active Georgian to win at AMS across all three National Series.

“Having two races there is going to be huge, because coming off the first one you obviously sit down after the race, take a bunch of notes and figure out what you can do to be better — so this gives you a faster opportunity to test out the things you wanted to try after the [first],” Jones said. “I think that’s going to be a big step for us as far as getting a better hold on the race track and having a shot to win.

Although it’s his home track, Atlanta remains one of the toughest tracks on the circuit for Jones. After placing 37th and 31 laps down the first time in 2021, the driver of the No. 19 is eager to apply notes amassed from March in search of redemption.

Still in search of his first win of the season, Jones could become the sole active Georgian across all three National Series to win at the 1.54-mile track. More so than the glory of winning at home, the 24-year-old wants this win to send a message and get into his competitor’s heads.

“I definitely think winning a race there in dominating fashion throws a statement to all the other drivers that we’re a force to contend with for the rest of the year,” Jones said. “If you’re tough at Atlanta, you’re going to be tough at a lot of other places as well. That’s my mindset and what it would mean to me is the statement you make when you win at that place”

Jones seeks his first win of 2021 at his home track in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Credit Karma 250 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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