Erik Jones ready to get back to racing after sitting out last two NASCAR Cup races

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Erik Jones is back in a Cup car this weekend at Darlington Raceway after he sat out last week’s race despite being cleared to compete.

Jones suffered a compression fracture in a lower vertebrae in an April 21 crash at Talladega Superspeedway. He sat out the following weekend at Dover and was cleared to run at Kansas but did not.

It’s rare to see a driver willingly sit out a race after being approved by a doctor to return — Jones admits he wanted to come back last weekend before deciding otherwise with the team — but there is a reason for his decision.

“If I really pushed it, I could have been in the car last week, I think — if I really, really wanted to be,” Jones said Saturday in response to a question from NBC Sports. “But if I make that call on my own, and overrule and go out and re-injure myself, I kind of look like an idiot in some ways, right?

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“… I think sitting down, thinking about and getting past that first moment of you get cleared and you’re coming back, and then taking a moment to step back and say ‘Okay, yes, we are clear, you’ve done some things to make yourself feel good, but where are you really at?’ This was on Thursday morning. I was still sore. I still had soreness at that point, really until Sunday.

“Sunday of Kansas was really when I started feeling better, so to say that I could have gotten in last week and truly been at my full potential, and not – number one, be sore – and not, number two, be in the back of my mind saying, ‘If I hit the wall right now, how is that going to go?’ I think I would have probably been lying to myself. So when you take those conversations and take a step back for a second, I feel like you get a broader picture and that’s kind of where I ended up on the weekend.”

Jones said he also considered other factors in his decision to sit out at Kansas and have Corey Heim drive the No. 43 car for Legacy Motor Club.

“I think the way that we really looked at it – at the end of the day – I’m 27, 28 this month, years old,” Jones said. “I hope to race in NASCAR for a handful of more years, right? I hopefully have more than a decade. That is a lot of races. That is 500 or something like that.

“You look back, and say what is the difference of one or two? We go to Kansas twice a year – 20 more times in my career, at least to go back there. There is so many more races down the road are really the conversations that we had, and those conversations that we want to have those races together and be in this sport for a long time and not do something right now that is going to put me in a spot where I would have an early end to my career.”

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Jones, who will start 30th in Sunday’s race, said that his back is 95%. He didn't declare it 100% because he’s not permitted to lift weights yet as part of his training.

The two-time Darlington winner said that he and his team have made adjustments to his seat and safety belts since the accident.

“I changed my seat, and some belt angles – a handful of things that we found that could have been better before the wreck at Talladega,” Jones said. “I think it has been a big learning experience, really, I think we have all learned a lot internally at what we can do better at with safety.

“There are all kinds of different opinions out there on what you can do, and we are always learning, but I feel like we are in a better spot – for me at least – and what I can do in the car. I haven’t made a lot of changes, frankly, in a lot of years. I’ve ran the same seat for about eight years. It was time to switch things up.”