With a victory on Sunday in the Snowball Derby, Erik Jones would complete a three-year run unprecedented in the history of short track racing and establish the 18-year-old as one of the most accomplished stars of his era.
Since his breakthrough victory in the 2012 Snowball Derby, Jones has gone on to join Kyle Busch Motorsports and has won two consecutive Winchester 400s, two-straight Snowball Derbies and four victories in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Next year will see him graduate full-time to the Truck Series where he hopes to win a drivers championship for KBM, one year removed from earning an owner’s championship alongside Busch in the No. 51 Toyota Tundra. Due to all of his success in Late Models, ARCA and the Truck Series this season, the pressure is off for Jones at the Derby this weekend with the Michigan native explaining how his confidence is at an all-time high.
This is a new sensation for Jones, who admitted that his first two attempts at the Snowball Derby were some of the highest pressure-filled situations of his young career.
“The first one always is tough,” Jones said. “But the second year was tough too because there is a pressure of having to come back and defend the win. But now we’ve done that before too so, for me, I have nothing to lose this year.
“This is just a fun opportunity that may never present itself again. That’s the mentality I have this weekend because I’m in the best equipment and it’s just up to me to make the right decisions and win our third in a row.”
Jones says having the security of a full-time NASCAR contract for 2014 is a large reason that ge feels so confident and comfortable this weekend. His first two Snowball Derby attempts were statements to the world that he belonged. Having accomplished that feat, this weekend is simply about returning to his roots.
“That’s definitely a big part of why I don’t feel any pressure coming here this year,” Jones said. “Everything is signed up for next year and this is just a race that I want to go out to win for me and my team. Both Kyle and myself have had a lot of success in the Late Model this year and my goal is to finish strong in winning the Derby.
“That would be a pretty cool season, combined with our success in the Camping World Truck Series together so it’s definitely something I’m mindful about.”
Another reason for his confidence is the fact that his Super Late Model was designed by long-time Busch employee and crew chief, Chris Gabehart. This is the first time that KBM has actually placed Jones in a KBM house car for the Snowball Derby as last year’s victory took place in the Jones family car but with KBM assistance.
Jones says having a custom built KBM chassis is another aspect behind his soaring confidence.
“This car has all the things that makes me feel comfortable during a race,” Jones said. “Chris built and designed the car in-house at KBM and it was just cool to have a guy like him come in and build us something. It was cool to see how that came together.
“We brought it down here for a test last week and felt like it was going to be really good because it responded well to all the changes we threw at it. I’m excited to see how it stacks up this weekend.”
The Derby is always an unpredictable 300 laps but entering the weekend, Jones has to be the favorite based on his three-year run of success and from the looks of it, he knows it too. That could be a bad sign for the rest of the competition on the Florida Gulf Coast.