Chevy racing–nascar–erik jones

 ERIK JONES, DRIVER OF THE NO. 43 RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1 1LE, met with media via teleconference to discuss his anticipation going into the 2021 season, how the team has been preparing for their first season together, and more. Full Transcript:  BEING IN THE CLASH IS GOOD BEING WITH A NEW TEAM, BUT HOW MUCH MORE IMPORTANT IS IT NOW THAT THERE’S GOING TO BE A RACE THERE A FEW WEEKS LATER?“Yeah, like you said, it was going to be big either way – thinking about going there and now really having any practice. Just getting in a new car, there’s going to be a lot of different things – from the way the motor runs, brakes, steering, everything is going to be totally different for me. So, just being able to get on track, have some laps on something other than the superspeedway at Daytona. Especially a road course, you have to really try out every system in your car. So, I think that’s going to be really important. And plus, now going into the road course after Daytona, is even bigger for me. We’re going to be able to take what we’ve learned in that race and, hopefully, improve on it.”
“There’s going to be stuff that’s different for me, obviously, and different for the team – a new driver for them and every driver has different preferences, feels, and things they want out of a car. So, it’s going to be pretty big for both of us.”
THE TEAM HASN’T ANNOUNCED SPONSORS YET FOR NEXT YEAR. THERE’S A LOT OF SOCIAL CHATTER – WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN, SO FAR, FROM BEING AT THE SHOP AND EVERTYHING THAT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT NEXT YEAR?“Well, I think the sponsor announcements are going to come here, hopefully, soon. For me, I’ve been to the shop a lot. I was actually up there this morning doing some stuff, checking things out and doing some final fitting stuff in the car itself. For me, it’s encouraging just seeing the alliance that they have with RCR. I actually went down and saw their shop – I hadn’t been to RCR up until today. So, just to see all that stuff – see what they’re totally capable of is really encouraging. I’ve had a lot of conversations with Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) about the car and the engineers about what I like in a race car, what I like before the race, as far as pre-race driver reports and information for myself. So, there’s a ton of stuff to go over and we’re still going over a lot of stuff, and there’s going to be more to go over after Christmas and New Years – everyone is going to take a couple weeks off here. It’s been pretty busy and a lot of communication with the team. For me, it’s really encouraging. I think there’s a lot of things that we’re going to be able to accomplish next year that are probably going to surprised people. I think the equipment is there and very capable.”
NASCAR, OUT OF THE PANDEMIC, A LOT OF GOOD STUFF HAPPENED. OBVIOUSLY, YOUR DEAL, WHICH IS A GOOD DEAL FOR YOU. BUT, ONE OF THE BIG THINGS IS MORNING CONSULT CAME OUT WITH A LIST, RECENTLY, ABOUT THE FASTEST GROWING BRANDS OF 2020. AS NASCAR TRIES TO APPEAL TO THE YOUTH, HAVE THEY MENTIONED ANYTHING ABOUT THIS TO YOU GUYS ABOUT HELPING THAT TO CONTINUE TO RIDE THIS WAVE?“Yeah, I really haven’t heard too much from them yet. I think it’s been pretty respectable and admirable, the job that they’ve done this last year in making that connection and making that growth. That was really cool for me to see – I read it there on Twitter a few days ago, maybe last week I guess now. It’s exciting for me. I think people in my generation and my age, definitely maybe in the last few years, haven’t paid much attention to NASCAR. But, obviously looking at that, it’s definitely growing and that’s a great thing for us. It’s a tough market right now. I think everybody being kind of held up indoors maybe opened their eyes up to a new sport, watching new things, and for a while, NASCAR was really the only thing on TV. So, I think a lot of people tuned in that maybe had never watched a race before and realized that there’s so much more to it than us just racing and being on the track – there’s so much strategy to it and lot of the things that are pretty unique in our sport that make it pretty exciting. I haven’t talked to NASCAR about what we can do to keep it going, but I would definitely be interested in that – in what I can do in my field to keep connected with the younger fans, keep them interested and keep bringing them in.”
ALL NASCAR TEAMS HAVE THE SAME BASIC THINGS – CREW CHIEFS, TEAM MEMBERS AND ALL THAT. PETTY HAS SOMETHING DIFFERENT THAT YOU PROBABLY HAVEN’T EXPERIENCED IN THE FORM OF RICHARD PETTY. HAVE YOU TALKED TO HIM? DO YOU THINK HE’S GOING TO HELP MENTOR YOU IN ANY WAY? IT SEEMS LIKE THAT WOULD BE AN ADDED BENEFIT BECAUSE HAVING TALKED TO MR. PETTY MYSELF, I KNOW HOW MUCH KNOWLEDGE HE HAS.“Yeah, I’ve talked to him actually quite a bit through all this – when we were trying to get the deal done and since we’ve got the deal signed and done, I’ve chatted with him quite a bit. It’s really neat for me to see how in-tune he is with everything that’s going on. You don’t really know until you spend time with somebody how much they’re really involved and what they’re doing. With The King, with his team, he’s all in. So, it’s been really neat to see and just get some advice from him right off the bat about dealing with sponsors, dealing with fans and things he’s done over his time in the sport to really nurture those relationships and build strong relationships with sponsors and fans. I’ve definitely enjoyed the time I’ve gotten to talk to him so far. For me, I’m looking forward to continuing that through the year and just being able to go to him, ask questions and get advice about something he’s been around his whole life. And most the time the sport has been around itself, he’s been involved too. I’m excited to grow that relationship and get to chat with him about racing and obviously hope to make him proud on the track. Running well is what he really cares about – he wants his car to go out and be successful and I hope we can do that.”
JERRY BAXTER (CREW CHIEF) SAID THAT THE STEP THE TEAM TOOK LAST YEAR, JUMPING UP SIX SPOTS IN POINTS, HE’S LOOKING TO DO THAT AGAIN NEXT YEAR WITH YOU. MAYBE THAT’S BEING A LITTLE GREEDY, BUT HE WANTS TO GET INTO THE TEENS. FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, IS THAT A REALISTIC GOAL? WHAT ARE YOU SHOOTING FOR, IN TERMS OF WHERE YOU THINK THIS TEAM CAN BE POINTS-WISE?“I think that’s a realistic goal. The top-20 is the goal, for sure. They took a huge step last year, obviously like he said, and I think they’re just continuing to grow that relationship with RCR and that’s continuing to make them stronger. I think there’s even more stuff we can do this year that’s going to make us better. Hopefully, I can bring some knowledge from what I’ve done over at JGR and their group and continue to help RPM. It’s going to be interesting to see. Obviously, it’s a little tough with the development freeze – we’re not really able to go in and make parts and make things that are better than what they’ve had. But there’s still some aero development and stuff there that we can go out and hopefully work on.”“Yeah, I’m excited. I’ve talked to Jerry a decent amount about next year. I think his excitement level matches mine in what we can go out and do next year. It’s just kind of a fresh start for everybody – it’s a fresh start for me, obviously it’s a fresh start for RPM with myself as a new driver and just a different group. It’s going to be fun to see. I’m excited to just be with a small group. It’s unique for me – I already know all the guys in the shop, which at JGR, I don’t know that I had the chance to meet every single person face-to-face through the time I was there. I’m excited and I think that’s a realistic goal to get in the top-20 in points.”
JERRY SAID IT’S PROBABLY GOING TO BE A LITTLE BIT OF A CULTURE SHOCK FOR YOU, GOING FROM A COMPANY AS BIG AS JGR TO RPM. I KNOW YOU SAID YOU’VE BEEN UP THERE A LITTLE BIT TO GET ACCLIMATED. WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO JUST SEE HOW THEY DO THINGS AND BE AMONG A SMALLER GROUP? WAS IT AS MUCH OF A CULTURE SHOCK AS MAYBE HE THOUGHT IT WAS? “It’s a lot different. It just kind of brings me back to short track racing to me more than anything – what I grew up doing in Late Models and stuff there. Obviously, that was my family team, so it was really just me, my dad, we had a crew chief a couple of times and that was it. The rest was help that was around us growing up in Michigan, local people. It reminds me more of that. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s nice to just be able to walk into the shop and right off the bat get to say ‘hi’ to everybody and there’s nowhere to walk around all day trying to get to see everybody that you need to see. So, I’ve enjoyed it. The communication is really easy – talking to Jerry (Baxter), talking to Philippe, everybody there that kind of makes the world go around. I’m excited for next year, just having one car to focus on. It’s all for us at RPM – we’re trying to go out and make the No. 43 run the best we can, which I think is pretty neat.”
YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN A GREAT INTERVIEWER, ERIK. IS IT JUST ME OR AM I SEEING YOU ON SOCAL MEDIA MORE? YOU AND YOUR DOG, YOU READING STORIES AND WHATNOT. IT’S ALWAYS BEEN EASY TO TALK TO YOU, BUT I WONDER, ARE YOU KIND OF STEPPING UP THE SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE?“Yeah, I mean it’s been intentional – you’re not just imagining things with that. It’s definitely been a work-in-progress over the last year and a half, just getting more active on social media. It’s not something that I was always heavy into. I didn’t share a lot from my personal life, I guess, on social media. But the world of motorsports is changing a lot in the last couple of years in what sponsors are interested in and what teams are interested in, and I think social media is a big part of that change. For me, it was kind of evolve or move on. So, I started to really push through social media and try to make it a bigger part of my life in a way that wasn’t overwhelming or overbearing for me, I guess.”
“It’s still a challenge at times. I don’t always think of things to share for what people want to see. The more you post, the fans are really interested in you sharing anything from your life, so I try hard to keep what I have going on day-to-day out there. We’ve done some cool stuff, obviously with the reading initiative that I’ve been doing for kids; reading some of the children books, which we started right at the start of the pandemic, which was not intentional. But it worked out really cool, people being at home and kids not being in school, being able to read some of those books and take some suggestions along the way. So, just some cool stuff we’re doing and I’m trying to think everyday of new things we can do on social media to keep interactive and keep it interesting.”
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE OFF-SEASON NOW, ARE YOUR FEELINGS DIFFERENT THAN THEY WERE A YEAR AGO? OBVIOUSYLY, EVERYONE ALWAYS SAYS THEIR EXCITED AT THE START OF THE YEAR AND IF YOU’RE AT A NEW PLACE, YOU HAVE TO SAY THAT, AND I SURE YOU ARE. BUT DO YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT FEELING ABOUT ANYTHING THAN YOU DID A YEAR AGO?“I think I feel re-invigorated more than anything – just excited to get the year started. I know you said everybody says they’re excited, but not lying and being totally truthful, I probably haven’t been this excited since my rookie year – coming into the Cup Series and just having a fresh start, a new group, something to build and roll together with is fun for me. When you feel like you’re really bringing something to an organization, that’s rewarding and I’ve felt that so far in being at RPM – just feeling valued, wanted and that I can bring something to the table in myself, help improve and, as a group, grow and get better. I think that’s probably, more than anything, more exciting for me and what’s energized me to get the season started. It seems like a lot of times you get to the off season and you’re thinking ‘man, I’m ready for that month or two off’. And this year, I was just ready to get to Daytona with those guys. I was over there right after Phoenix at RPM – getting to meeting everybody, spending time there, eating lunch with them. It’s just been a different feeling this off season for me and I think it’s been a good thing.”  
YOU MENTIONED THE TRANSITION GOING TO A SMALLER TEAM AND OPERATION. HAS THERE BEEN A MAJOR ADJUSTMENT ALSO IN MOVING TO THE CHEVROLET SIDE OF THINGS, AFTER SPENDING SEVERAL YEARS OF YOUR DEVELOPMENT IN THE TOYOTA SYSTEM?“Yeah, in a few ways. Obviously, names and faces are new and you’re trying to meet everybody and figure out what everybody’s role is in a short amount of time. Beyond that, it’s the simulation stuff – the simulator, how that works, who runs it, where it’s at, when do you get on it and how much can you use it, stuff like that. And just the processes, it’s just so different. The race team is the race team – at the end of the day, they’re all kind of ran the same way, they’re just smaller or bigger, this or that. But the manufacturers I think are pretty different and they all have different ways of thought and train of thought in how they run things and how things are accomplished. For me, it’s just been a learning process with Chevrolet to figure that out.”
“The easy thing with Chevrolet for me is just my connection with them from my whole life. Growing up around the Corvette company we had and that side of things. I had a ton of family that worked at GM – generational workers at GM. So, there’s a lot of things that are easy and natural for me with Chevrolet and GM. But figuring out the processes of how everything works internally with the race team side has definitely been an adjustment and a learning curve.”
YOU MENTIONED SOME OF THE CONVERSATIONS YOU’VE HAD WITH RICHARD PETTY, SO FAR. HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO WRAP YOUR HEAD AROUND THE HISTORY OF JUST EVERYTHING HE’S BEEN ABLE TO CONTRIBUTE – JUST THE MAGNITUDE OF THE NO. 43, PETTY BLUE, ALL OF THOSE THINGS?“It’s a little bit hard to totally grasp the impact that Richard Petty has had on NASCAR and the No. 43 itself. I never got to see The King race, so that’s kind of an interesting thing I think for me. But I know obviously his impact on the sport, what he means to NASCAR and what he means to NASCAR fans. Growing up, my grandmother was and still is a huge Richard Petty fan and there’s a lot of people that are really excited to see me in that car from back home. So, it’s been hard to wrap my head around that a little bit and really think about all the history in that car and what it’s meant to the sport. But I hope I can go out and do it and its fans proud. I know there’s a lot of fans of that car, just from back when Richard was driving it himself, so hopefully we can go out and make those fans happy.”
I JUST WANTED TO ASK YOU ABOUT THE LEVEL OF SECURITY YOU FEEL NOW BECAUSE THE LAST TWO YEARS, YOU WERE WORKING ON A ONE-YEAR CONTRACT. JUST TO KNOW YOU’RE SOMEWHERE THAT YOU’RE REALLY WANTED, YOU’RE NOT NECESSARILY IN A PECKING ORDER WITH ALL THE STAR POWER YOU HAD SURROUNDING YOU. HOW DOES THAT HELP YOUR CONFIDENCE GOING INTO 2021?“It definitely helps a lot. You’re not so much worry about that. Obviously, I put a lot of pressure on myself to go and perform, and in the situation I was in, there was a lot of pressure to perform just naturally. Not just because they have fast race cars and that they win races, but the other drivers you’re surrounded with, as well. Obviously, the goal is to compete with those drivers and be able to go out and beat them, but it’s not an easy thing to do. I’m excited to get over to RPM and not be thinking about that – just be able to go out and voice my opinion on what I feel like the cars are doing, what we feel like we need to do better and be better at from my side of things. So, that’s exciting for me. And just not having to worry about everything else that’s going on outside is going to be kind of a relief. It’s just a group of true racers. Guys at that shop want to be there, want to race and they want to go to the track and succeed and run well. I think that’s kind of the same mentality for myself – I don’t want to go to the race track and just race and that’s kind of it. Hopefully, we can go and do really well, but definitely more excited for Daytona than I’ve been in a while. Like I said earlier, I feel energized about it and ready to get to the race track.”
I ASKED BRAD KESELOWSKI ONCE WHY THERE WASN’T MORE RACERS FROM MICHIGAN SINCE THEY HAVE SUCH A CAR CULTURE AND YOU CAN RELATE TO THIS SINCE YOU AND YOUR DAD’S LOVE FOR CORVETTES AND WORKING ON CARS. HE SAID GUYS LOVE CARS TOO MUCH TO WANT TO WRECK THEM ON A RACE TRACK. FROM A SOMEWHAT LONG LIST OF GUYS THAT HAVE COME FROM MICHIGAN, JUST THE CAR CULTURE – YOU TALKED ABOUT CHEVROLET, THERE’S GOT TO BE A SENSE OF PRIDE. YOU TALK ABOUT FAMILY PRIDE – MY GRANDFATHER WORKED A CHEVROLET. TALK A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THAT AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR A MICHIGAN GUY TO BE IN WITH A COMPANY THAT’S SO STEEP IN HISTORY LIKE PETTY ENTERPRISES. “Yeah, I think it goes hand-in-hand. Getting to talk with some of the guys from Chevrolet on the phone over the last couple of weeks and just tell them my story was pretty fun. I don’t think those guys really knew, other than what I’ve been able to do in racing on the race track, kind of my history in being from Michigan. Being from just outside of Flint, which was obviously a huge manufacturing hub for General Motors for many years, it was cool to share that. And just the love of cars, that’s an easy thing to talk about and those guys are car guys. They have their own cars and stuff that they work on and are interested in. I shared some of the projects that I’ve done over the last few years, with the 1969 Corvette I restored, my dad’s Corvette – all that stuff was really a natural fit for me. Being from Michigan, there’s definitely people that are heavily ingrained in Chevy culture and I think that’s kind of what helps the transition be a little bit easier for me. But it was definitely cool to share the story with them, kind of my family and the history that we’ve had with General Motors and in the Flint area was pretty cool.”