The South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway last weekend presented an ideal opportunity for Conner Jones to showcase his talents amongst other Late Model veterans, as he ran inside the Top 10 all evening before settling for a sixth-place finish.
Jones admitted that it was an arduous process to ensure that his Late Model had great speed for the 225-lap feature, but he credited his crew for their determination to improve his car throughout the weekend.
“We had a rough day up until the race started,” Jones said. “We rode in the back most of the day after qualifying 28th, but to come out of Florence with a Top 10 was just amazing, so all of the hard work during the week payed off.”
Although COVID-19 restrictions limited the amount of places Jones could race in 2020, he was able to obtain plenty of experience by competing at facilities like Hickory Motor Speedway, Dominion Raceway and Southern National Motorsports Park.
Each track presented its own unique challenges for Jones to figure out, with Hickory in particular teaching him valuable information about patience and tire conservation, which Jones used to his advantage in the South Carolina 400.
“I learned to save tires a lot,” Jones said. “I’ve done a couple of these 200-lap races before, one at Dominion and one at Hickory. You don’t really save tires at Dominion since its such a high-grip track, but Hickory will teach you a whole lot about saving tires.”
Jones had never seen Florence prior to arriving for the South Carolina 400 and was immediately taken aback by the lack of a wall on the backstretch and in the turns, which forced him to tweak his driving style in the practices leading up to the race.
Jones’ unfamiliarity with the facility contributed to him initially struggling in practice. Those issues continued into the group qualifying session on Saturday afternoon, as a time of 18.110 placed him near the rear of the 35-car field.
“The poor qualifying run was my fault because I didn’t plant the tires in the track hard enough going into Turn 3 when I got out of the pits,” Jones said about his run. “We still ran a relatively fast lap, but it wasn’t where I wanted it to be.”
Despite being four-tenths off of polesitter Matt Cox’s run, Jones and his team elected not to make any changes to his #14 Late Model ahead of the South Carolina 400, as they knew that the car would get faster once the sun went down.
Jones’ charge to the front of the pack was a methodical one, but he successfully climbed inside the Top 10 on Lap 92 after passing Matt Craig before picking off Brenden Queen five laps later to put himself in ninth ahead of the Lap 100 break.
With Jones still not needing any additional changes to the car following a strong start, he maintained the speed that helped get him inside the Top 10, which was enough to keep him on the lead lap after race-winner Ty Majeski lapped all but seven other cars.
Although Jones was frustrated at different points during the weekend, he was thrilled to finish in front of so many other strong Late Model competitors and hopes to build off the momentum from the South Carolina 400 into his 2021 season.
“It was really awesome to finish in front of guys like Timothy Peters,” Jones said. “Timothy still runs in the Truck Series from time to time, so that was pretty cool too, but I have to thank Mike Darne and everyone else that helped make this car so good [during the South Carolina 400].”
Jones plans to visit many of the same tracks he raced at in 2020 next year, but he is also looking to expand his Late Model schedule with a handful of CARS LMSC Tour races, starting with the season-opener at Rockingham Speedway on March 6.