With the NASCAR Xfinity series on a two-week break, Erik Jones will be bored again this weekend.
“I wish we were racing this weekend,” Jones said last week. “I’m ready to go.”
Why not? Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) is next, with the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 on April 9 to start the track’s first race weekend of the season.
Erik Jones looks forward to TMS.
The track gives Jones a chance to get his first Xfinity win of the season. To do that he must beat the dominant racer in the series: Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate and career helper Kyle Busch, in the No. 18 Toyota.
“Texas is one of the places I marked down where we have a chance to beat him,” Jones said.
Jones, 19, has been good at TMS in the early stage of his promising career. A year ago, he had a pole and a win in two Xfinity starts. He also wrapped up the Camping World Truck Series title for Busch’s team with a win at TMS in November.
The well-worn 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) track, with its slick and fast surface, is just right for Jones.
“We’re all pretty excited to get back in Texas,” Jones said. “It’s a special place for me, a fun place. We can put on a show for the fans, and it makes it a lot of fun for the drivers.”
Beating Busch will be a difficult task even on a favorite track. Jones is trying to surpass the defending Sprint Cup champion and the all-time wins leader at the Xfinity level.
Busch has 79 career Xfinity wins, 30 more than second-place Mark Martin. Busch has 28 wins in his last 72 Xfinity starts and three in four races this season.
In the last race, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, on March 20, Jones was running second to Busch with three laps remaining when he ran out of fuel. A flat tire kept Busch for a fourth consecutive win.
The encouraging point for Jones was that he stayed within one second of Busch for most of the race.
“It’s been fun trying to chase him down every week,” Jones said. “As long as we can keep that gap and get it closer, we’ll have one of those wins come our way sooner or later.”
That Busch races in what is considered as NASCAR’s top developmental series is a subject of debate.
Busch defends it as a way to stay sharp and indulge his affection for racing. Detractors say Cup racers in an Xfinity field take away from the purpose of the series to pick up a few extra bucks.
Jones welcomes Busch’s presence. If Jones can run with Busch, he can stay with anyone at any NASCAR level.
“To know that you’re competing against that kind of talent is a pretty good measuring stick for us,” Jones said.
Jones has one career-changing win against Busch.
In 2012, at age 16, Jones beat Busch in the Snowball Derby, a 300-lap super late model stock car race annually staged in Pensacola, Florida. That led to Busch bringing Jones onto his trucks team as a part-timer for two seasons and a full-timer last year.
Busch served as a mentor to Jones in those seasons. They have a teammate’s relationship now, with the eager kid trying to beat the master. It could happen at TMS.