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Erik Jones and No. 43 Team Making Gains Ahead of Texas

Erik Jones

Erik Jones and his No. 43 LEGACY Motor Club Toyota Camry XSE efforts are making gains ahead of Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas. (Photo: Daniel Rankin | The Podium Finish)

FORT WORTH, Texas — Throughout Erik Jones‘ NASCAR Cup Series career, he has been smooth and efficient with his equipment. Finishing 87.83% of the 263 Cup races he has entered, the 27-year-old Byron, Michigan, native races wisely, seldomly putting himself in a compromising position.

Jones, driver of the No. 43 LEGACY Motor Club Toyota Camry XSE efforts since 2021, has been the glue for his team. Unassuming and dedicated, the 2015 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series champion adapts to changes with grace and dignity.

When the LEGACY Motor Club organization switched from Chevrolet to Toyota for the 2024 season, Jones and his No. 43 team recognized the transition’s challenges. Ahead of the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix weekend at Circuit of the Americas, the three-time Cup race winner illustrated how it was more than just a body style and OEM change.

“It’s been a change,” Jones said. “Any time you switch manufacturers, it’s more of a change for the guys working on it and more of the engineering side of things for me. The motor feels a little bit different and may handle a little different in traffic.

“But the engineers are the guys who are kind of going through the weeds of figuring out a new simulation program and getting comfortable with that. So it’s been good. It’s been a work in progress and I think it’s going to continue to be until we get everything kind of scienced out. But overall, I think it’s been a positive change for us.”

Along the way, Jones, as any driver may point out, has relied on his village to progress and grow. In this case, Jones turns to Dave Elenz, his crew chief, to guide him and his No. 43 team during the season.

“I think Dave does a good job,” he shared. “And overall, it’s going to take just getting more time on the track with this car and getting a baseline for some sim notes and for car notes. And being able to go back to these places for a second time is going to be important for us later in the year. And it was similar last year too.”

Even for a race weekend like at Texas Motor Speedway, Jones knows every little bit helps with establishing a baseline. Ranked 20th in the points standings with an eighth in the 66th DAYTONA 500, Jones has a respectable track record at the 1.5-mile intermediate track, tallying three top fives and seven top 10s in 12 starts with an average finish of 11.8.

Last September, Jones was a major factor in the 400.5-mile race, starting 12th, finishing second in Stage 2 and leading three laps before a late race crash took him out of contention. Now, he looks forward to replicating his strong performance despite qualifying 27th.

More importantly, considering the early portion of the Cup season, Jones considers how the springtime weekends may pay dividends for running better and faster during the summer months.

Erik Jones

Erik Jones and the No. 43 team continue to build towards a stronger LEGACY Motor Club organization in Cup. (Photo: Daniel Rankin | The Podium Finish)

“When we could go back to places for a second time, it was good for us after we lost some of our information in the change over to Toyota,” Jones explained. “So, I think it’s going to be a bit similar this year. We want to accelerate that process if we can in any way. And we’re working our hardest to do that. But anytime we can get more and more information is going to be better for us.”

Gathering information is a premium for Jones and his No. 43 team particularly with finding an established, consistent perspective to strengthen LEGACY Motor Club’s efforts. This year, Jones may have his most competitive teammate yet with John Hunter Nemechek behind the wheel of the No. 42 Toyota Camry XSE.

With Jones ranked 20th, trailing Nemechek by one position, the veteran racer points out how his fifth year teammate has excelled with crew chief Ben Beshore. Like Nemechek, Beshore arrived at LEGACY Motor Club from the Joe Gibbs Racing organization, an intangible that has proven beneficial for the Nos. 42 and 43 teams.

“It’s been good. They’ve been doing a good job just finishing the races out,” he observed. “We’ve just not been able to kind of close these days out and get the finishes we need and want. So, [we’re] hoping to turn that around and have that start coming our way. But it’s been good.

“Ben’s come over and has been a new addition for us as well at LEGACY. He was over at JGR before. So, Ben’s brought some resource, and John Hunter has done a good job to this point of making the most of his days. And, he’s really… I know he’s not a rookie, but he never drove this car really a lot. Just once before. So he’s learning a lot and been doing a good job in that transition, figuring everything out.

John Hunter Nemechek

Erik Jones wants to see John Hunter Nemechek’s No. 42 team run strong in unison with the No. 43 team each weekend like at Texas. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Collaboration goes a long ways toward strengthening a budding, rising organization like LEGACY Motor Club. Limited on track time means all the data gathering and input leading up to and during race weekends proves valuable especially with Jones and Nemechek being teammates this year.

“You want two cars that are running well,” Jones said. “And that’s something that in the history of of LEGACY so far, we’ve struggled with. We’ve had the 43 car contend and and run up front and be able to win.

“And and we haven’t been able to get the 42 to that same point. And this has been the best start for sure with the 42 car over the last couple of years for us. So, it’s nice to have two cars with speed.”

Make no mistake that Jones wants to do everything he can to help Nemechek’s efforts. Generally speaking, it is a collaborative, combined effort between Jones and Nemechek alongside their teams to extract the most from their Camrys.

“You want to have both the teams running well and being able to glean more information off of,” he explained. “It’s tough when you got one car running good and the other’s struggling. You can’t always learn a lot from that. And it makes it harder to grow and move forward. So having two cars running well, it gives you a lot more database to work for and it makes you better as a group.”

There is no doubt how Jones and his diligent team have incredible resources around them at their campus and the track. Late last year, Matt Kenseth joined the organization as a Competition Advisor, undoubtedly making positive contributions for Jones and company in the past six months.

“It’s been good,” Jones said. “Matt’s been helping bridge the gap with the drivers to the team and things we need and as drivers to make us better. It has been his main objective since he’s come over to LEGACY. So it’s been fun. He’s been really involved, been really interested in everything we’ve got going on. I think he’s coming to a handful more races through the season.

“But he’s been doing a lot with us and just trying to help us out on all sides of things, from the Toyota relationship to the team relationship and sponsor relationship. So he’s been a good value for us so far. And, looking forward just to seeing what we can do more throughout the year. But he’s definitely been working a lot with the drivers and helping us on whatever we’ve needed.”

Unlike most of the field, perhaps no driver, on the surface, faces a greater bit of pressure to succeed than Jones. After all, he drives one of the most iconic car numbers not just in NASCAR, but in motorsports with the No. 43, a number synonymous with seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty.

Despite all the weight of driving the No. 43 toward the front of the field again, he knows how significant and special it is for him to succeed in his ride, particularly for their team ambassador whose moniker is “The King.”

Richard Petty

Richard Petty continues to contribute and advise to the No. 43 team of Erik Jones as the ambassador of LEGACY Motor Club. (Photo: Myk Crawford | The Podium Finish)

“I think that means a lot to him,” he said. “And, it’s been neat to see for myself, but it’s just been fun to drive the 43. I’ve been working on trying to make my own mark in it and hoping we can continue to do it more and more and better and better.

“But we’re going to go out and run well for Richard. It’s always fun to to see him when we go out and run well, and when we can go out and have success. He’s definitely really excited about it.”

Along with driving for Petty, it is a milestone year for one of the sport’s famous families in celebration of their 75th anniversary in NASCAR. Like race fans, Jones is thrilled about the fitting tribute to the Petty family at each Cup venue this year with a larger than life cowboy hat in fan zones or concourses.

“Yeah, it’s been fun being in the 43 now,” Jones said. “I didn’t know the Pettys that well before I came over and getting to know Richard better and Kyle and all their family, really over the last few years, has been a lot of fun. But, seeing them have the honor this year has been pretty neat.

“Obviously, a really cool program with the hat at all these tracks going around and seeing them design their own hat and make it a little unique and different everywhere and have something there that’s going to honor him at every race permanently.”

Richard Petty and Kyle Petty

Richard Petty and Kyle Petty celebrate their family’s 75 years in NASCAR in 2024. (Photo: Cornnell Chu | The Podium Finish)

Petty, 86, still actively works with the team, always willing to give his input or impart his wisdom to Jones and the team. Most of all, Petty and his cousin, Dale Inman, a seven-time Cup championship winning crew chief, still make their presence known to be more than knowledge seekers.

“I always love anything I can get from him,” Jones shared. “He’s always got something to add on, usually, and advice to give. And, he’s always asking questions too. He’s always curious about what we’re doing and what’s different about the car and what our plan is for the weekend and how we’re going to how we’re going to get better. It’s fun to see him around.

“We were up at the shop a couple of days ago doing some simulator work, and Richard and Dale came in and stopped by and said ‘Hi.’ And we’re laughing at our simulator a little bit and and what we were doing there and just checking it out. So, it’s always fun to have him come around and be at the racetrack in the shop. And they make sure always come around and say ‘Hi.’ So it’s always neat to see him.”

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing. Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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