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TALLADEGA, ALABAMA - APRIL 22: Erik Jones, driver of the #43 U.S. AIR FORCE Chevrolet, walks the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 22, 2023 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Erik Jones ready to get back to racing at Darlington

LEGACY MOTOR CLUB driver Erik Jones was made available to the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway on Saturday.

How would classify your health?

“I would say 100 percent. Well maybe 95. I feel 100 percent, but I say 95 because I can’t go in the gym and lift weight. I can’t put that kind of load on my spine from a precautionary standpoint. I would say 95, just from that, but I feel 100 and ready to get back.”

What other restrictions do you have on yourself?

“Not much right now. Through this injury, it has kind of been a pain tolerance thing, more than anything. It is a stable fracture – there is not really a risk of it become unstable or anything like that – so it is mostly what I feel like I can take. Some of it has just been getting back outside, working at my house seeing what feels comfortable and what makes me sore and what doesn’t. I would say we are at three weeks tomorrow. Four weeks, next week, I feel like I will be able to get back in the gym and do my normal thing again, and at five weeks, be totally back to normal.”

What are you referring to when you say that you missed some things by being out of the car the last two weeks?

“I think just being in that rhythm week-to-week. In the Cup Series, you are running nearly 38 straight weeks every year. Everybody has stayed in that rhythm the last couple of weeks, and they are hopping in today, and it’s a normal weekend for them. For me – it’s only been two weeks – but still you have to get your bearings again, recalibrate them when you strap back in. I don’t think it will take long. I would say I’m way behind, but you lose that rhythm of it being week-to-week, and communication with the crew. I’ve stayed talking to them a lot these last two weeks, but that was also two weeks of them with a different driver, different feedback, different work through the week, so getting back in that flow of normal things for everybody is going to take a second.”

How is a driver convinced to not get in the car the moment they’ve been cleared?

“It is tough because in one way – in that moment – when you get the all clear, you are thinking that I’m coming back and then you have more conversations and you realize that it is not going to happen, but I think at the end of the day, you are talking with multiple people through it, and figuring out the best options through it – it is for the best – and at that point, I think look – if I really pushed it – I could have been in the car last week, I think, if I really, really wanted to be, but if I make that call on my own, and overrule and go out and re-injure myself, I kind of look like an idiot in some ways, right? Barring anyone else’s words. I think sitting down, thinking about and getting past that first moment of you get cleared and you’re coming back, and then taking a moment to step back and say okay, yes, we are clear, you’ve done some things to make yourself feel good, but where are you really at? This was on Thursday morning. I was still sore. I still had soreness at that point, really until Sunday. Sunday of Kansas was really when I started feeling better, so to say that I could have gotten in last week and truly been at my full potential, and not – number one, be sore – and not, number two, be in the back of my mind saying, if I hit the wall right now, how is that going to go? I think I would have probably been lying to myself, so when you take those conversations and take a step back for a second, I feel like you get a broader picture and that’s kind of where I ended up on the weekend.”

How did you get to that point?
“I think the way that we really looked at it – at the end of the day – I’m 27, 28 this month, years old. I hope to race in NASCAR for a handful of more years, right? I hopefully have a more than a decade. That is a lot of races. That is 500 or something like that. You look back, and say what is the difference of one or two? We go to Kansas twice a year – 20 more times in my career, at least to go back there. There is so many more races down the road are really the conversations that we had, and those conversations that we want to have those races together, and be in this sport for a long time, and not do something right now that is going to put me in a spot where I would have an early in to my career, and we’ve seen it happen with drivers over the years with these nagging injuries – they add up and eventually guys are out of the seat sooner than they want to be, whether it is, head or body, along those lines. I think it was along those lines of those conversations that I really had with people to come to a peace with that decision that one more week out – we look back two years from now – it is just such a small blip on the radar.”

What have they allowed you to do physical therapy wise? What did the doctors ask from you before you got cleared? Are you wearing a back brace?

“I didn’t have any back brace. My injury was on the minor side – just one vertebra – so with it being stable, there was really no brace required from the start. As far as what I did getting back in the gym, really it was right after I sat out that week of Dover. Right after Dover, I was back on Tuesday getting in the gym. Some of it was pain management, treatment stuff – hot, cold – everything we could to make it feel better, and then I just started with walking, walking on the treadmill, walking on a high incline. Got up, started jogging a little bit to see how the impact felt on my back, and that felt good. So right now, it is more body weight workouts. I can’t lift a lot of weight or it’s going to put pressure on my spine, downward, but I can do any kind of bodyweight movements – just a lot of stretching, trying to keep – when you have an injury like that in your back, your back is spasming a lot to try to support your spine, so trying to loosen that back up is mostly what I’ve been doing, so the physical therapy side, there wasn’t much. Unfortunately, I learned with this injury – there is not a lot that you can do to speed things up – it’s more of one that you have to rest and wait. It has to heal on its own. The bone doesn’t grow back. It’s just going to harden. You’ve lost that chunk of vertebra forever, so I guess, I’m a little shorter than before, but you just have to wait for it to harden back up and where it can support and feel good again.”

— Toyota Racing —