After having three days to think about it, Erik Jones doesn’t feel any differently about his initial reaction to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s aggressive driving at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Jones and Stenhouse Jr. swapped positions for a number of laps while running in the top 10 toward the end of the first stage of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, but the battle heated up when the two drivers made contact. Jones received light, cosmetic damage to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after Stenhouse pinned him down on the apron while racing through the front stretch.
“I think it was just overzealous, probably, on his part,” Jones told NASCAR.com on Wednesday. “It was really early in the race and it was really overly aggressive. At that point, we had a much faster car than he did, and he just made it really hard on us to get around him.
“I really don’t know where that stems from,” Jones added. “I’ve never had a problem with Ricky in the past. … At the end of the day, if you’re going to race really hard, you’re going to get it in return.”
Jones didn’t take issue with Stenhouse Jr. racing him hard in general, rather it was the point in the race when it took place that he and his No. 20 team didn’t appreciate, causing them to get fired up on the radio. Jones went on to finish 13th, while Stenhouse scored a sixth-place result.
“It’s fine to race hard,” Jones said. “I would understand if that was, you know, 15 or 20 laps to go, you can race like that. But there was a lot of race left and when you’re banging the doors off the thing with 300 miles left in the race, that’s just a lot. Kind of is what it is and it’s his choice if he wants to race like that.”
Noting that Stenhouse Jr. raced his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch “really, really hard” a few laps prior to his own run-in, Jones said the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing driver should have thought more logically about the move.
“I know (Busch and I) both had quite a bit faster cars than him at that point in the race,” Jones said. “Most of the time, when somebody catches you with that long to go in the race, that quickly, you’re not going to give them too hard of a time to get by you.”
As the Monster Energy Series heads to ISM Raceway for Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Jones was persistent in stating that if Stenhouse Jr. can dish it out, he better be ready to take it, too.
“He’s just going to have to expect that in return,” Jones reiterated. “He’s had some fast cars to start the year and I know he wants to have some good finishes, but there’s kind of a happy medium there between racing hard, trying to maintain what you’ve got and giving people a little bit of a break every once in a while.”
Looking ahead to the fourth race of the 2019 season at the 1-mile track, Jones’ confidence level is high after a strong start with finishes of 13th or better the first three events. Jones also has a solid track record in Phoenix, with one top five and three top-10 finishes in five starts.
“Overall, I feel like we’ve adapted well to the rules package,” Jones said. “I think Joe Gibbs Racing is making good changes to what we have car-build wise going forward (and we’re going) to continue to make it better. Phoenix is going to be a lot different. High downforce, but more power like we had last year, so that’s going to be a first experience for everybody. But I think we’ve got a good grasp on which way we need to go with the package and what we need to do to be fast with it, so I think that’s a good sign for us.