Keeping up with Jones could become habit in NASCAR circles

cathyelliottIt occurred to me after I watched the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on May 16 that I have spent precious little time this season talking about the “all-stars” of our sport. Instead, I have stayed true to form and gone off on a series of odd tangents on things like inappropriate terms of endearment and Tiger Woods.

I have done you a disservice. I feel badly about it. So this week I have decided to take a deep breath and make a decision … to keep right on doing what I’ve been doing.  Sorry.

Well, truth be told, that’s not the truth. I’m not sorry. After spending the past couple of years contemplating NASCAR’s future prospects and thinking things were looking pretty bleak, I have come full circle – or perhaps I should say full oval. We have discussed Brett Moffitt this year, and Chase Elliott. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson always seem to be in the conversation (and in the thick of things on the racetrack).

This week, it is time to talk about NASCAR’s current number one, Number 2: Erik Jones.

Like the old joke about how Democrats vote – early and often – Jones has wasted no time making a name for himself since Kyle Busch Motorsports signed him to drive in five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) races in 2013. Success came early; Erik finished second in his third career start and later that same season became the youngest driver  to win in the history of NASCAR’s high-level competition, at the age of 17. (He lost the top spot to Cole Custer the following season, but still, it was pretty impressive.)

In 2014 Jones moved up to the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Joe Gibbs Racing. He competed in three events for JGR that year, and earned another winner’s trophy in the NCWTS, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; that’s his boss Kyle Busch’s hometown, by the way. Way to go, Erik.

On April 10 of this year Jones won his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, but probably the biggest moment of his career came when he made his unofficial debut at Bristol Motor Speedway after his JGR teammate Denny Hamlin was sidelined by neck spasms. It was subsequently announced that he would take over driving duties in the No. 18 Toyota until Kyle Busch – who was seriously injured during Speedweeks at Daytona – was medically cleared to reclaim the driver’s seat.

Long story short, Jones is making headlines in a big way. As far as NASCAR trajectories go, he appears to be on a straight and focused line to the front of the field.

He certainly has proven himself willing to do whatever it takes to make it big, even in temporary situations. I think I heard somewhere that Jones will be filling in as an interim late-night talk show host until Stephen Colbert takes over David Letterman’s former seat, and there are also rumors that he has been tapped as an understudy for the title character in Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera, a legendary leading man with a long and successful career whose name, by the way, also happens to be Erik.

Coincidence? I think not.

Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame. Contact her at cathyelliott@hotmail.com.

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