Erik Jones pulls out late NASCAR victory with heavy heart

Apr 16, 2016; Bristol, TN, USA; NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Erik Jones (20) after winning the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 16, 2016; Bristol, TN, USA; NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Erik Jones (20) after winning the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 16, 2016; Bristol, TN, USA; NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Erik Jones (20) after winning the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Erik Jones busted open the door at the media center at Bristol Motor Speedway, hoisting a WWE-style championship belt after his first Xfinity Series win of the season. The 19-year-old driver was the embodiment of exuberance on the outside.

On the inside, it was a different story.

Minutes earlier, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was fighting back tears shortly after celebrating in Victory Lane.

“I was actually talking to my parents,” Jones said. “We need to announce it at some time, but he actually got diagnosed with cancer.”

Jones didn’t disclose the exact diagnosis, but noted that his father is, “going through treatment now and he actually missed the last few weeks.”

Jones struggled to start out the season with a 31st-place finish, but has thrived since the opener. Qualifying no worse than second at all six races, Jones has rattled off four top-three finishes before his win on Saturday.

Apr 16, 2016; Bristol, TN, USA; NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Erik Jones (20) celebrates after winning the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 16, 2016; Bristol, TN, USA; NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Erik Jones (20) celebrates after winning the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The defending Camping World Trucks Series champion has racked up seven wins in a truck and three wins now at the Xfinity level. He’s also compiled wins in notable races like the Snowball Derby and Winchester 400 before his rise to prominence in NASCAR’s top three series.

Saturday’s checkered flag was the first his parents weren’t in attendance to witness.

“It was pretty emotional,” Jones said. “It was the first win they haven’t been here for, so hard to hold the emotions back for that one.”

Currently second in the Xfinity standings behind teammate Daniel Suarez by only six points, Jones is the only driver in the lower series to clinch a berth in the Chase. With Suarez finishing sixth on Saturday, Joe Gibbs Racing has two clear championship contenders under the age of 25 at the Xfinity level.

Jones will have a season-long battle to fight with his teammates and others to claim a second championship in two years. It’s nothing like the fight his dad faces – but both intend to win their individual battles.

 

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