NASCAR felt Jones was capable of driving Hamlin's car
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Erik Jones had never turned a lap in the Sprint Cup Series when he became a last-minute replacement driver for Denny Hamlin at Bristol last weekend.
Jones was flown in from North Carolina during a lengthy rain delay in Sunday's race when because Hamlin had neck spasms. The 18-year-old arrived 5 minutes before the race resumed, and jumped into Hamlin's car for the remainder of the event.
NASCAR had to approve Jones as the replacement driver, something that isn't done until the competitor has at least turned some laps. But in the case of Jones, NASCAR was satisfied he was capable of driving.
Sprint Cup Series director Richard Buck said Friday that Jones was approved ''based upon his recent experience at the track, and we had just gotten a fresh look at him the day before at Bristol.''
Jones had arrived in Bristol fresh off his first career Xfinity Series victory one week earlier at Texas. He then ran the Xfinity race at Bristol, where he won the pole and then finished fourth. He has won three consecutive poles in the Xfinity Series.
After returning home to North Carolina, he was contemplating taking a nap during the rain-delayed Cup race when he received a call to get prepared to fly back to Tennessee.
He wasn't at the track for more than a few minutes before he was climbing into Hamlin's car for what he later described as ''a huge learning experience.'' Jones finished 26th, six laps down, driving a car set for Hamlin's specifics. He struggled for most of the race with a steering wheel he found too close to him for comfort.
''It took me so long figuring out what I had and what I had to do differently from the Xfinity cars. I learned a ton,'' Jones said. ''It was an interesting situation, for sure. I'd never turned a lap in one of these cars until the green flag.''
Matt Kenseth, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, went on to win Bristol and said Friday Jones did an admirable job.
''That was a very unique circumstance,'' Kenseth said. ''I think it's hard to judge him either way in what he did in Bristol in Denny's car. Man, that's a tough environment, not one lap of practice and even though he ran the race before, the Cup race is just so different to jump in there and go that fast and be surrounded by all those cars and everything.''