MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Though Brandon Jones made the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs in three of his first four full-time seasons, he never did it by winning.
This season, however, can be classified as a breakout for the 23-year-old from Atlanta.
Jones comes into the postseason with three wins during the regular season — at Arizona’s Phoenix Raceway, Kansas Speedway and Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, respectively — and is the fifth-seeded driver with 2,020 points entering Saturday’s playoff opener at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway.
That kind of résumé and the extra playoff points Jones has in his back pocket have him confident his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team can “go rounds in a way we haven’t before” and take a serious shot at winning the Xfinity Series championship.
“This is a unique year for me coming into the playoffs,” Jones told SPEED SPORT during Xfinity Series Playoff Media Day on Tuesday. “I’ve made it (past) the first round, I think every year that I’ve ran in the Xfinity Series … and I’ve made it each time with no wins, so this is a whole new game changer for me to be able to have the wins and to have the confidence coming into the playoffs with those wins.
“I think this first round is going to be honestly really good. Vegas has always been really great to us. We’ve always been really fast there and I felt like we had the car to win earlier this year,” Jones noted. “I think we got a big hole in the nose during the race and it kind of altered our handling some. Talladega and the (Charlotte Motor Speedway) ROVAL, I’m not really sure how those are going to go, but they can definitely take a turn really fast and go your way, so I think this first round will be good.
“We’ve got some great tracks after that (in the Round of 8), so I have the confidence that we can make it to the last round. I think that the tracks and how they’re laid out are really in our favor as well.”
When Jones reflected on his year to this point, he noted that much of his success has come in places he “wouldn’t have expected,” giving him even more confidence for tracks where he frequently runs well.
“If you look back, our three wins this year were all tracks where I came into the year saying I needed to work on and I needed to get a little bit better at,” Jones noted. “Auto Club (Speedway) didn’t go our way, but we were on track to win that one and Phoenix has always been a really difficult race track for me. Darlington, who would have ever thought I’d win at that place? That one was a crazy one, for sure.
“There’s a whole bunch of tracks that we have done so well at that were just not on our radar this year, so it’s got me really excited for the playoffs and what we can accomplish.”
While Jones feels good about where his team sits in relation to the postseason field, the two Ford Mustangs driven by Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are the early favorites.
Briscoe and Cindric enter the playoffs with 30 more points in the bank than Jones has, and the pair has combined to win 12 of the first 26 races. Those stats don’t intimidate Jones, however.
Jones believes his team is capable of competing on the same level at, and beating, the Ford pair.
“It’s going to be about mental toughness once you get to the end of this (playoff run),” Jones said. “There are going to be some tracks that you have to say focused on. We’ve been running the entire year so far, so this is the time of the year where people are starting to slack off a little bit and get just a little bit less on edge. You’ve got to stay on top of your game every single day.
“I think that’s what is going to win the championship is making sure that when you have those red flags and you are sitting there hot, that after you fire back up you are ready to go again and you’ve brushed everything off. Those are some of the little things that are going to get you to that next level.”
The next level, in Jones’ eyes, is a series championship.
It’s a goal he views as attainable and one he wants to check off for Joe Gibbs Racing by becoming the first Gibbs driver since Daniel Suarez in 2016 to capture the Xfinity Series crown.
“I came into the season saying that I wanted to win about five races. I think that was a reasonable goal for me and we’ve been so close already to almost getting that with the three wins we do have … and knowing there were a few in there that I was so close as well,” Jones said. “That would be a successful year for me, I think, but honestly this year has already been great. I could end now and say that this has been a really solid year, but I feel like I have a lot left to give for the races that we have ahead of us.
“Staying focused, continuing to take notes and stay on top of fitness … all of that stuff is going to be key to keep pushing to get those wins. That’s what we are focused on from week to week,” Jones continued. “Our big goal is that championship and getting to that Final Four, but we take it each race at a time and don’t get too far ahead of ourselves so that we can have the best chance to succeed.”
The NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs commence Saturday at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway.