NASCAR’s protocols for the pandemic haven’t changed much since last season but it’s one thing to operate under them as a driver with a history at a multi-team organization and another when you change to a one-car operation.
One of the biggest noticeable changes moving from Joe Gibbs Racing to RPM for Jones? Operating under NASCAR’s no practice policy at most tracks in the Cup Series.
“Last year, I didn’t really think much of (not practicing), but I’d also been with that organization for a few years with the same crew chief. So, we had a lot of notes,” Jones said. “We’re kind of going in a little bit blind this year with a new team and a new crew chief and a new car and a new manufacturer.
“Everything is a lot different. So, having no notes has made the no practice just stand out more for me this year over last year.”
It’s been a tough start to the 2021 season for Jones, 24.
He’s wrecked out of both superspeedway races, including on the last lap of last Sunday’s race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway while still in the hunt for the win.
Jones is mired in 27th-place in the series standings with a pair of top-10 finishes in the first 10 races, including a season’s-best ninth at the Bristol Dirt Track.
Given the obstacles to restarting with a new team, Jones said he still didn’t think he nor his No. 43 Chevrolet team needed to temper their expectations for 2021.
“I think we just go out every week with the hope to run a Top 10. We’ve done that a few times. I think we are probably capable of doing it a few more; we just didn’t have things really work out for us,” he said.
“So, I think we’ve kept our expectations pretty similar to what we began the year with. And that’s just going out and trying to obviously, get those Top 10’s and take advantage of the places we know we can go up front and try to win at.”
Jones’ other top-10 run was 10th early in the season at Las Vegas, a 1.5-mile intermediate track similar to Kansas Speedway, site of Sunday’s race.
Lessons learned from Vegas will hopefully translate into another strong run on Sunday, Jones said.
“We struggled at Atlanta but ran really well at Vegas. But those were two totally different cars. So, I think we’ve changed our mindset a little bit on some of those tracks,” he said. “And, going into Kansas this weekend, we’re running a car real similar to what we had at Las Vegas, so I think that’ll be pretty good.
“But just learning and trying to get a notebook together for what works and what doesn’t – I think we’ve done a good job of that. I think it’s going to start to show here as we start to go back to more of these 1.5-mile tracks.”