LAS VEGAS â Erik Jones has been on a hot streak heading into the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, but itâs turning down the heat that has been the key to his success.
Jones spent his third full year in the Cup Series intensely focusing on what he and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team needs to compete against the sportâs elite, including the improvement of decisions he makes on the track â his top priority.
âI would say my natural tendency is to do too much,â Jones said during Thursdayâs NASCAR Playoffs Media Day. âTry to drive too hard. I still do it, right? Look at Bristol (Motor Speedway) â we were still racing for the win, racing for the lead and there were still 80 laps to go and I made a mistake, got into the wall. You have to refocus.â
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Apart from finishes of 18th or worse at Bristol, Michigan International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jones has finished fourth or better in five of the last eight races, including his second career victory in the Bojanglesâ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Itâs that triumph during NASCARâs throwback weekend that showcased how Jones has been able to fast-forward his ever-evolving learning process.
âThereâs situations in the race where itâs not time to push and where itâs not time to be aggressive,â Jones said. âThatâs the biggest thing I had to focus on was when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive. Darlington was a perfect race for us. Just be aggressive when it mattered, giving stuff up when it didnât matter.â
While Jones doesnât possess the experience of JGR teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. â all major threats for the 2019 Monster Energy Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway â he has performed with more veteran-like prowess on a consistent basis recently.
Jones needed time to figure out the new aerodynamic rules earlier in the year, but he has simultaneously achieved better finishes while learning when to push the envelope and when to not give the car more than it can handle.
Itâs that advancement that could make Jones a significant sleeper for a deep title run as the NASCAR Playoffs kick off with Sundayâs South Point 400 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
âThis was a new learning experience with what to focus on and what you need to be fast,â Jones said. âAll those things kind of combined is what Iâve been trying to work on this year. As a driver youâre always growing and learning. That was the biggest thing for me this year to try to work on and be better at.â