Jones returns to competition with revamped driver’s seat

Erik Jones returns to NASCAR competition this weekend at Darlington Raceway with changes to the cockpit of his Legacy Motor Club Toyota.

Jones missed the last two Cup Series races recovering from a compression fracture in a lower vertebra. It is an injury that Jones has described as mild, as it was one vertebra. During his recovery, which has consisted of rest and pain management and not necessarily a set therapy regimen, Jones has not had a back brace and will not have any such support while in the car.

The injury occurred during a frontal impact April 21 at Talladega Superspeedway.

“I have changed a lot in the car,” Jones said Saturday morning before practice at Darlington Raceway. “I’ve changed my seat and some belt angles and a handful of things that we found that could have been better before the wreck at Talladega. So, I think it’s been a big learning experience. We’ve all learned a lot internally on what we can do better on safety — there are all kinds of different opinions out there on what’s right and wrong, and we’re always learning. But I feel like we’re in a better spot now, for me at least, of what I can do in the car.


“I hadn’t made a lot of changes, frankly, in a lot of years. I ran the same seat and everything for about eight years, and it was time to switch things up, obviously.”

There will likely be things after Sunday’s race at Darlington that Jones anticipates will need to be tweaked going forward as he adjusts to the changes. Sunday’s race is 400 miles, and next weekend is the All-Star Race, which is a much shorter race week than usual.

Jones, who has won twice at Darlington Raceway, admitted to being 95% healthy but feeling 100% to race. He returned to the simulator last week before Kansas Speedway, running for about an hour to an hour and a half and said he felt good. In the session, Jones ran different tracks where the movement in the simulator would give him a feeling for what his back would experience.

“I felt fine from the impact (of the tracks) and being in there for that long,” Jones said.

There was the possibility, Jones admitted, of returning from his injury the week after it occurred. However, the physical toll Dover Motor Speedway takes on a driver meant it was “not a place that was going to happen.” Doctors cleared Jones to return at Kansas Speedway, but Legacy Motor Club kept him on the sidelines for an additional week of rest.

Kansas is an intermediate racetrack, but with high speeds, the thought turned to the risk of being in another incident. And one that might not have been Jones’ fault. The three-week mark to return feels on the safe side of Jones nearly being 100% recovered.

“I feel like you can control your own destiny a bit (at Darlington), and there’s less risk for an incident like that,” Jones said.

NASCAR granted Jones a waiver, and he remains eligible for the postseason. Jones fell from 20th to 27th in the standings in the two races he was sidelined.

Story originally appeared on Racer