Race Weekend Central

Erik Jones Helping Corey Heim, No. 43 Team at Dover While Out with Injury

DOVER, Del. — After suffering a fractured vertebra from a violent head-on hit last Sunday (April 21) at Talladega Superspeedway, Erik Jones has been ruled out for Sunday’s (April 28) Wurth 400 at Dover Motor Speedway.

Dover will be Jones’ first race missed due to injury since the start of his rookie year in 2017, and the injury will end his streak of 262 consecutive NASCAR Cup Series starts.

Following his crash at Talladega, there were questions surrounding his initial medical exam in the infield care center, as he was checked and released and completed media interviews before ultimately returning to the care center a second time. From there, he was transported to UAB Hospital in Birmingham, Ala., where he was released later that night.

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Corey Heim Replacing Injured Erik Jones at Dover

On Saturday (April 27), Jones addressed the timeline of his injury following the crash — an injury that he initially thought was muscle strain.

“It hurt when I crashed,” Jones said. “I’ve never broken a bone in my life, so I didn’t even know what that would feel like. I got out of the car on my own, and I was feeling better. Obviously, adrenaline is going, and I’m pumped up still.

“Got to the care center, told them what was wrong — that my back was hurting. They poked and prodded all over me, like they normally do, and I said everything felt OK, and I told them multiple times that it felt like muscle strain to me.

“From there, I got up and I was getting around. I walked into the care center. I got up to leave and was feeling good, was getting released. I talked to a couple of nurses on the way out, and they said if anything changes, just come right back because they were under the same impression — lot of adrenaline — and they could tell that I was hurting a little bit.”

And once the adrenaline of the wreck wore off, Jones made his way back to the care center.

“By the time I got back to the motorhome, after the interviews, I was in more and more pain as time was passing,” Jones said. “Got changed into my clothes and knew I was going to have to go back. It really hurt, and I had some trouble getting around.

“So I went back right away and said there is probably more wrong than what I was letting on to you guys. It is really starting to cause me some pain. So then we made the decision to transport. We took an X-ray there, saw some possible problems, wasn’t really sure with the equipment, so we went ahead and transferred to UAB after that.”

On missing his first Cup race in more than seven years, Jones admitted that being out of the car is a tough reality for him to face.

“[Being out of the car] is definitely depressing in a way,” Jones said. “I never — especially when I was younger, starting my career — never thought I would miss a race for anything.

“You see guys along the way racing through injuries and sickness, and I was like, ‘I will never be one of those guys. I will make every race.’ As long as I race, there is nothing that can keep me out. I think we all think that as drivers, no matter what age or how old or how long you’ve been doing it.”

But Jones is healthy and feeling well enough to make the trip to Dover, and he said that his primary focus this weekend is to help his crew chief Dave Elenz and his replacement Corey Heim — who will be making his Cup Series debut — get up to speed.

“When you get faced with that reality, it’s definitely a changing perspective for you, for sure,” Jones said. “But the only thing that went my mind through it — I found out on Tuesday (April 23) that I wasn’t going to be able to race this weekend — was going and helping these guys get ready. Talking to Corey [Heim], helping him. Talking with Dave [Elenz] — obviously he hasn’t worked with anyone else in a minute, and I don’t think anyone ever making their Cup debut.

“That is a bit of a different weekend for him as well. Just trying to get these guys ready to go is the biggest thing from me.”

UPDATE: Joey Cohen will now serve as crew chief for the No. 43 team at Dover, as Dave Elenz had to leave the track for a personal matter.

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Heim, a six-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series winner who currently drives full-time for TRICON Garage, was signed as Legacy Motor Club’s reserve driver at the start of the year. He’ll have the chance to make a statement on Sunday at Dover, and he talked about how helpful the team has been in getting him up to speed with the Next Gen car for his debut.

“It certainly has been a busy week for me,” Heim said. “I’ve never sat in one of these [Next Gen cars] — ’till about an hour from now [for practice]. For sure, just trying to do the best I can for this group.

“They’ve consistently been getting better throughout the year, and [I’m] super grateful for everyone at Legacy Motor Club and the people there for doing everything they possibly can to get me ready, including Erik. He’s sat in all of our meetings. Huge props to him for that, and [Legacy co-owner] Jimmie [Johnson] as well.

“There is just a long list of men and women at Legacy Motor Club that have helped me get prepared for this race. I would be lying to you if I wasn’t a little nervous about it, because I’ve never sat in one of these cars before, but my job is to do the best I can for this No. 43 group until Erik comes back.”

As for Jones’ timetable in returning, Dover is the only race he’s been ruled out of as of April 28. Jimmie Johnson added that while racecar drivers have that itch and competitive drive to get back in the car as soon as they can, the team will be taking its time in dealing with Jones’ injury to make sure that he is as safe as he can be upon his return.

“It’s really a week-by-week basis, and there is a process that takes places with physicians and NASCAR to be reinstated,” Johnson said. “So being a driver and a competitor and having injuries, I know where my head would be trying to get in the car as soon as possible. I would assume it is certainly a priority for Erik, and we want him back as quickly as he can, but as safely as we can. As we run through the process each week, I would anticipate that Erik is going to be eager.

“We are going to physicians and try to get approval from NASCAR — we are trying to make sure that timing is right. It is really tough to tell with injuries. I’m sure you can tell from your experience in sports, we all wish we had the crystal ball and know when someone could come back, but it really is a dynamic environment.

“We will go through the right steps and make sure that Erik is truly ready when he gets back in the car. I think driving is one aspect of it. But going through another significant impact and crash, that is something that we have to be mindful of.”

And if Jones is out for an extended period of time, could we see Johnson add more starts to his current nine-race schedule?

“Next weekend, I’m in the No. 84 car in Kansas,” Johnson said. “We really haven’t looked really far down the road. We are taking it week-by-week, but Kansas for sure — it would be Corey and not me.”

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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My advice to Corey is have fun and keep the car in one piece.

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