Erik Jones' ascension through NASCAR is moving almost as rapidly as the hype surrounding the 19-year-old driver.
In theory, the focus should be on the championship hunt that Jones is in the thick of during his first full-time season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series or the emphatic impact he has made running part-time in the Xfinity Series.
It's just that Jones keeps transitioning so smoothly and keeps collecting results at a rate that belies how difficult these steps up are supposed to be. And so, the prognosticating about when — not if — the ultimate, long-term jump in class will happen just can't be stymied.
"There's no question that at some point very quick he is going to be in a Cup car some," team owner Joe Gibbs said of Jones in April. "I think he's ready to go at any time. We'll just work with that as we go forward."
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Jones is feeding the monster, the one that is always prowling for the next wunderkind capable of crashing the Sprint Cup ranks.
Already gaining attention for his exploits in the Truck Series — where he maintained third place in the points standings Thursday night by finishing second in the race and leading the most laps — Jones heads into Friday's Xfinity Kentucky 300 as one of that series' most dominant performers this year even while running a limited scheduled.
In 14 Xfinity starts in 2015 for Joe Gibbs Racing, Jones has recorded two victories and seven top-five finishes while starting on the pole four times. He earned his first Xfinity triumph at Texas on April 10 when he outpaced a field that included Cup regulars Brad Keselow ski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin, leading a race-high 79 of 200 laps.
Gibbs made good on his desire to get Jones that Cup experience shortly thereafter when he tabbed the upstart to make his first Cup start, filling in for an injured Kyle Busch at Kansas Speedway on May 9.
Though a run-in with the wall on Lap 196 relegated Jones to 40th place, series veterans tossed respect and praise his direction as Jones was running in the top five before his Camry got loose.
"It means a lot," Jones said of the chatter surrounding his Cup potential. "I worked for a long time to be considered to be one of the better young guys coming up. When I was 13, 14, 15 and running late models, I wasn't really in the conversation with some of the other guys coming up.
"To finally be at that point where I'm in those talks, it means a lot to me, and it's important to me to be up there and makes me feel good. Nice to see all that work pay off for us and to be at this point right now."
It has been Jones' hallmark to waste no time making a favorable impression.
Signed by Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2013 to help pilot the No. 51 Toyota Tundra, Jones became the youngest winner in the history of the truck series at 17 years, five months and nine days old with his victory at Phoenix International Raceway in November 2013.
Last year, Jones rattled off three truck-series wins and earned two poles from 12 starts. In his Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series debut for Joe Gibbs Racing at Chicagoland last July, he raced to a seventh-place finish.
"I'm concerned about my career path, and anybody that says they don't look at it entirely is lying," Jones said. "I see that it's there but don't pay much attention to it, and just go out and do my job every week, drive as hard as I can and try to win the race. As long as you do that, everything else will fall into place."
Jones joins series points leader Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed as the only non-Cup drivers to win in the 15 Xfinity races this season. Sure enough, the entry list for the Kentucky 300 is dotted with the likes of Busch, Keselowski and Earnhardt Jr., with the latter in particular viewing the race as a chance to get some precious time over the famously bumpy tri-oval.
"We can learn some extra stuff on air pressure and find some things that will help the Cup car Saturday night," Earnhardt Jr. said. "(Extra track time) really helps you work on the setup, understand adjustments and what direction the track's going to go."
Earnhardt is among those who have been most effusive in discussing Jones' ability.
For many young drivers, it would be easy to let such talk get into their heads and distort reality. But Jones is working as hard at keeping his mind right as he is at fueling the fire.
"I'm just focused on this weekend now and trying to keep everything going and keep that success," he said. "It's been fun and it's been a good year. I'm definitely excited about the future."