Almost a year since his father's death, Erik Jones feels "more solid"

Erik Jones’ father never got to see his son debut as a full-time driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Almost a year since his father's death, Erik Jones feels "more solid"
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Race winner Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Race winner Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 2015 champion Erik Jones, Kyle Busch Racing
Championship victory lane: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 2015 champion Erik Jones, Kyle Busch Motorsports celebrates with team owner Kyle Busch
Race winner Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, with parents
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota on the grid
Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Car of Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
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Dave Jones, 53, died June 7, 2016, after a battle with lung and brain cancer.

But he knew even before Erik that his son would make NASCAR’s big time and it wasn’t just wishful thinking.

Knowing it was worth it

In a private meeting with team owner Joe Gibbs in the month before Jones’ death, Gibbs assured the elder Jones his son would be competing in the Cup series with the Furniture Row Racing organization in 2017.

Dave Jones later shared details of the conversation with his son.

“I’m just really happy for you,” Dave said. “It’s going to be a great year.”

While Erik, now 20, still wishes his dad could have been at last month’s Daytona 500 to witness his season debut, Dave died knowing the dream they both had worked so hard together to achieve had been fulfilled.

“It was cool in that moment to be able to sit down with him and say, ‘Hey, we did it. Next year, we’re going to be at the peak, man. That’s it,'” Erik said. “It was special to be able to share that moment; at least he knew it was all going to work out.”

Erik spoke to a group of reporters Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, talking at length for the first time about his father’s death last season and how it affected him then and now.

I went from having that to being on my own. In trying to figure that all out myself at 20 years old, I don’t have a ton of experience in the world.

Erik Jones losing his father

Dave Jones died the week leading up to the June race weekend at Michigan International Speedway and Erik had said little at the time publicly about his father’s illness or how serious it had become.

Dealing with the loss

He made brief comments immediately after that weekend’s race before quickly returning to his family’s home in Byron, Mich.

“I holed up in my house and didn’t go anywhere,” Erik said. “I didn’t talk about it at the time to anybody. Most of my friends didn’t even know he was sick at the time.

“The first few months after he was gone were tough. Going to the race track was not necessarily something I wanted to do right away, but I felt like it would get my mind off it at least and I knew it was something he would have wanted me to do.

“I was honestly worried about whether I would ever win again. I didn’t know if I would even be the same person after going through something like that.”

Erik said moving on with his life has been difficult, in large part because his father was such an important part of his support structure, both personally and professionally.

Erik’s first full Cup season got off to a rocky start at Daytona but he rebounded last weekend at Atlanta, running in the top 10 much of the race before sliding to 14th at the finish. He’ll start eighth in Sunday’s Kobalt 400.

“My dad was pretty heavily involved in my racing, especially the backside of it – the planning, where my money was going. I never had to worry about the money I was making or bills I was paying, I would just call my dad and say, ‘I’ve got this problem. What do you think?’ He would always have the answer, I felt like,” Erik said.

“You lose that so quickly – in three to four months I went from having that to being on my own. In trying to figure that all out myself at 20 years old, I don’t have a ton of experience in the world.”

Yet with the support of his friends and family and the lessons learned from the time he did have with his father, Erik continued on.

“At the end of it all, especially today, I feel like I’m more solid and know what’s going on than ever. But it took a long time to get there,” he said. “All of last year I felt like some things were not in my control. I feel like I ignored a lot of things. I just didn’t deal with it.

“In the offseason, I got a lot of things in order like I needed to and I definitely feel like I have it under better control.”

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