When NASCAR driver Erik Jones returns to his home state of Michigan to race, everything is familiar. He arrived there on Sunday after the race at Watkins Glen and spent the week in the house he grew up in.
He visited with old friends, heard everyone call soft drinks “pop” instead of “soda” and saw half the state covered in maize and blue and the other half in green and white, all just like it’s always been.
That familiarity will end when he pulls onto the track at Michigan International Speedway, site of Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400.
You would think, given the fact he went to high school only 82 miles from the track, that Jones, driver of the No. 77 Toyota for Furniture Row Racing, would know every pebble and crevice on the 2-mile oval in the Irish Hills. But here’s a dirty little secret about drivers and their “home tracks.” They often spend little time there.
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Jones never raced at MIS until a Trucks Series race two years ago and has raced there once each in NASCAR’s top three divisions. He rarely even attended races at MIS as a boy, as he says he was almost always racing somewhere else on NASCAR race days.
Still, the track loomed large for him, the closest place geographically where he could achieve his dream.
To race there symbolized his emergence as a young driver. To win there would symbolize his arrival as a future star.
And get him into the playoffs, which is his immediate concern. He has no chance to race his way into the postseason on points, so he and his racing team will take any and all chances to try to get to Victory Lane.
“We feel like we’ve been pretty aggressive on strategy pretty much every week and trying to give ourselves the best shot to win, and we’ve done a good job of that,” he said. “We’ve still gotten some good finishes out of it, but I definitely feel like we’re more aggressive on strategy than we were the first part of the year.
“We’re not looking for top-10s. We’re looking to try to go out there and snag a win.”
If that trip to Victory Lane happens to be in his home state – where there will be a host of familiar faces cheering for him – all the better.