P.J. JONES, THE SON OF ALL-TIME RACING GREAT PARNELLI JONES, IS SET TO BEGIN HIS ROOKIE YEAR WITH PATRICK RACING IN THE VISTEON FORD. HE IS CONFIDENT HIS NEW TEAM WILL GIVE HIM THE ATMOSPHERE TO CAPTURE HIS FIRST CART FEDEX CHAMPIONSHIP WIN.
P.J. JONES, THE SON OF ALL-TIME RACING GREAT PARNELLI JONES, IS SET TO BEGIN HIS ROOKIE YEAR WITH PATRICK RACING IN THE VISTEON FORD. HE IS CONFIDENT HIS NEW TEAM WILL GIVE HIM THE ATMOSPHERE TO CAPTURE HIS FIRST CART FEDEX CHAMPIONSHIP WIN. JONES HAD PREVIOUSLY BEEN WITH DAN GURNEY'S ALL-AMERICAN RACERS PROGRAM IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER SINCE 1994.
JONES, WHO WAS PICKED TO REPLACE SCOTT PRUETT FOR THE 1999 SEASON, TALKED ABOUT THE REASONING BEHIND THE MOVE TO PATRICK, WHAT IT MEANS TO HIS RACING CAREER, AND WHO HIS CHIEF COMPETITION WILL BE IN HIS FIGHT FOR THE 1999 PPG CUP DRIVERS' CHAMPIONSHIP.
HOW DID THE OPPORTUNITY WITH PATRICK RACING COME ABOUT? "Pat Patrick, Jim McGee and I had been talking throughout last year. I had also talked to some other teams, but, when this opportunity came open, I really jumped at it. I have worked with some of the mechanics on the team before and I really like the team and look up to Jim McGee. It was kind of a natural atmosphere for me."
PRIOR TO JOINING PATRICK RACING, DID YOU EVER FEAR THAT YOU WOULD NEVER GET THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW THE WORLD WHAT KIND OF DRIVER P.J. JONES CAN BE? "I was getting frustrated to the point that I would have to do something this year whether it be stock car racing or something else. I wanted to go someplace where I could win races. When things are not going right, friendships get strained and everyone is starting to fight each other and it was just not the right atmosphere for me."
HOW QUICKLY CAN YOU BE GOOD? "I think we are going to be good right out of the box. In the last twelve months I have really had the opportunity to change my frame of mind and change my attitude. For a while, I was starting to get a bad attitude, not that it was showing on the outside, but on the inside I was really starting to judge myself and not doing things with the intensity that I needed to them with. With my team last year, there was not much to look forward to. There were a few places like Nazareth where I knew I could probably run pretty well because is was a short race track and not a power track, and the car handling didn't have to be really on that I could probably show pretty decent there. Races like Milwaukee and Nazareth were the ones that kept my interest. But when you would go to a road course or someplace with a straightaway it's tough. It was hard to see your name at the bottom of the grid after every practice. Taking those last few races off last year gave me a chance to re-energize myself, get a better attitude and work with the team, go to all the tests and refocus on driving.
ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT YOU WILL TRY TO DO TOO MUCH TOO SOON? "I am just going to race as hard as I can and wherever I end up, I end up. You can't get too aggressive at the very beginning and middle of the race where you put yourself at risk. One thing I did learn was how to save the equipment and run all day. Even running at the back of the pack you learn things. You learn how to be patient and if I can apply that with being fast it should be a good combination."
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE YOU FELT WITH THE CAR DURING THE FIRST TEST? "The last quarter throttle is there. It's a big difference. Day in and day out last year the Fords were the engines that were posting the fastest trap speeds. I started out with the Reynard for my first two tests, which was good. The team has a good shock program and engineering program. Two or three of the engineers that are here I've worked with in the past were with me during my IMSA GTP days. All of the guys have made me feel real good since day one. I am real comfortable here, I'm relaxed and I enjoy coming to the track again."
THIS HAS TO BE ONE OF THE DEEPEST CHAMP CAR FIELDS IN SOME TIME. GOING INTO THE FIRST RACE THIS YEAR, IT'S DIFFICULT TO PUT YOUR FINGER ON ONE OR TWO GUYS THAT YOU CAN MARK AS PRE-SEASON FAVORITES. . . "It's really up for grabs. There are a bunch of contenders this year. The Honda and Mercedes guys have a legitimate shot, and the Ford teams with Newman-Haas and Michael (Andretti) and Christian (Fittipaldi), who is overdue, us, and the Rahal guys obviously are going to be there. Right now, the thing that makes me smile everyday is that I know I have the chance to win each race."
Adrian Fernandez -40- Quaker State/Tecate 1999 Ford-Cosworth -- ON NEW TEAMMATE P.J. JONES . . . "We have been friends for quite a while. We do a lot of things together. I have been helping him in many aspects and I am learning from him. P.J. is helping me in regards to fitness and nutrition. I am working with a new trainer and he had helped me better understand the role of nutrition. Now I have the right people helping me and they have taught me a lot about it."
Jim McGee, Team Manager, Patrick Racing -- ON P.J. JONES . . ."He has patience. He has got to have patience. I believe we have put together a team that will give him the reliability and the longevity for the long haul. I think he has all the talent in the world. In early tests he has proven the ability to give us feedback that improves the car. He is literally right on the edge of taking that next step. He is a young guy with a lot of fire in him. But, it's a controlled fire, like his dad (Parnelli Jones) had. His dad was probably the fiercest competitor I think ever. In fact, if you ask Jackie Stewart who the greatest American race car driver and he would tell you Parnelli Jones, but he was just never in the right place at the right time and did not have the right opportunities."