SLINGER, Wisc. — The car is a No. 20 Toyota, though this is not Daytona International Speedway, where Erik Jones drove that same manufacturer-number combo to victory in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 on Saturday. This is actually the Wisconsin heartland, at Slinger Speedway, where Jones will be driving a No. 20 Toyota super late model in the Slinger Nationals Tuesday night.
Twelve hours after edging Martin Truex Jr. to win his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win, Jones was on a plane Sunday morning flying to Wisconsin. Going right from NASCAR‘s signature speedway to a quarter-mile oval for a $10,000-to-win race may seem like an unusual way to celebrate one‘s first win at NASCAR‘s top level.
Yet, Jones wouldn‘t have it any other way.
“It is funny how it worked out,” Jones told NASCAR.com. “Getting my first win at Daytona then coming up here I thought was kinda neat to go right back to racing and do something special.
“Honestly, it‘s pretty cool that I have a shot to win a couple of different races within a few days. It gives me a chance to get back to my roots; this was what I grew up doing.”
This passion is why Jones is at Slinger, a quintessential bullring where lap times are so quick the track‘s slogan “The world‘s fastest quarter-mile” is more than just a catchy marketing phrase. The Nationals also happen to be one of the more prestigious super late model races in the country, featuring a list of previous winners that includes Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Alan Kulwicki and Mark Martin.
Jones, however, has not visited Slinger‘s Victory Lane, making it is one of the few prominent short-track races he hasn‘t won. His robust short-track résumé includes three wins in the Winchester (Ind.) 400 and two in the Snowball Derby held in Pensacola, Fla. And he nearly added a Slinger Nationals trophy to his collection in 2016, but a spirited battle with then-Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth did not go in Jones‘ favor.
After several laps that featured multiple instances of contact between them as they raced for the lead, Kenseth got the better when he nudged Jones out of the groove in Turn 2 on the final lap. Jones saved his car, though he couldn‘t rally to catch Kenseth, who won for a seventh time.
How the race ended created some tension between Jones and Kenseth, and even though they were JGR teammates it would be a few months before the two spoke — “about anything,” Jones said. Eventually the ice was broken and any hard feelings subsided.
“We just both disagreed with each other,” Jones said. “I disagreed with what happened, he disagreed with how I had raced him before that. But once we talked about it, we were fine. We started laughing about it.”
Jones didn‘t contest last year‘s edition, but returns Tuesday seeking the win that slipped away two years ago. Among those he‘ll be competing against are defending champion and current Camping World Truck Series points leader Johnny Sauter, and Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity Series driver Ty Majeski.
“I thought we had a really good car in 2016, and Matt had a really good car as well,” Jones said. “I wouldn‘t say redemption is the right word, but I feel like I gave one away a bit in that race. So I‘m back to get the win I feel like I should‘ve had then.”
The transition from racing at Daytona on Saturday to practicing at Slinger on Sunday was not seamless, and Jones admits it took some time to acclimate himself. Speeds at Daytona flirt with 200 mph — Chase Elliot‘s pole-winning lap was 194 mph — whereas it only takes 11 seconds for the best cars to navigate a Slinger lap.
“It‘s a lot different, no doubt,” Jones said. “Getting readjusted to these cars and what you need to do to be fast, it took a couple runs to get used to Slinger. It‘s a tough track; so tight and technical. It‘s hard to get back in the groove of things.”