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Erik Jones gets bull-ish with his day off during Cup series playoffs

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Erik Jones enjoys some Professional Bull Riders action Sunday. He relished the (0:27)

Erik Jones enjoys some Professional Bull Riders action Sunday. He relished the opportunity to make the trip from Richmond, where he raced Saturday night, to watch PBR at EagleBank Arena at George Mason University. Video by Bob Pockrass (0:27)

FAIRFAX, Va. -- Erik Jones didn't mope Sunday about his perilous spot following the first two NASCAR Cup Series playoff races.

He didn't go out on Lake Norman and hang with other drivers nor head to a pro football game or some other mainstream event.

He didn't sit at home and watch tape to try to prepare for a race in which he will either need to win or perform well -- plus get a little help -- to advance in the playoffs.

The way Jones relaxed? He left Richmond on Sunday morning following his 11th-place finish the night before and traveled about 90 miles to the arena at George Mason University, where the floor was covered with dirt. He stood on a makeshift stable, hands grabbing the railing behind him as if he was leaning on a stock car prior to a race.

The only exception were the bulls mulling underneath him, operating with an eerie calm before the voracity that awaited the Professional Bull Riders event.

"I was kind of excited, even after our run last night not being where we wanted it to be, to just kind of get to do something today that was fun and I knew would get my mind off it," Jones said.

"I just get up here and not think about it for a day. And then get back at it for the rest of the week."

The owner of one of the bulls talked about the one time when a bull got so ornery that he grabbed him by the horns.

"Of course, then you're just there for the ride," he said.

Jones could relate. He's had those moments in a race car where he's just been along for the ride, too.

But what is a race car driver from a small Michigan town doing at a PBR event on a valuable Sunday off? It wasn't a promotional appearance; Jones asked if he could go. He is a big fan and it didn't hurt that his sponsor, DeWalt, also sponsors one of the bull riders.

"I've always been a fan of the rodeo," Jones said. "I just have never been to a PBR event. ... I've been trying to get something worked out where it worked with both our schedules. This was the first one where we could both make it work and it was just kind of cool to get up here and see it."

That DeWalt bull rider, Matt Triplett, probably helped give Jones some perspective on competing. Triplett, who came to Richmond Raceway on Friday to see Jones qualify, spent maybe five seconds combined on his two bull rides Sunday. Jones couldn't fathom all that preparation and work for a few seconds of competition.

Triplett, 22nd in the standings, has earned $76,131 in purse money this year. Jones earned more than that for his team Sunday. NASCAR doesn't publicize its purse money but BK Racing's bankruptcy reports show it earned $78,655 for a 35th-place finish at Richmond in April.

Jones did receive VIP treatment during the PBR event, checking out the locker rooms as the bull riders stretched and prepared. Wearing a Toyota T-shirt and some jeans, Jones also sported a belt buckle, pretty much a necessity if someone wants to fit in with the rodeo crowd.

"It was one of my dad's belt buckles," Jones said. "I got it from him and that is why I wore it today."

Jones' father died a couple years ago from cancer as his son was making a run at the Xfinity Series title, a quest that ended with him fourth in the standings.

Jones learned about rodeo growing up in a small Michigan town.

"There's some people I grew up around that raise bulls," Jones said. "I knew a lot of people that rode bulls growing up. So it was around the area, but it wasn't huge up there."

Jones doesn't own a bull. His biggest animal is his pet German shepherd.

Could he ever own a bull?

"Maybe the next step is getting some bulls, I guess," Jones said. "That's the next logical step, right, from a German shepherd?"

Jones said that before watching what the bulls could do on one of the sport's biggest stages. He didn't just watch from his fourth-row seats -- he got to sit in the cage with the TV cameraman in the middle of the arena for 10 riders in the opening round.

"I've never done anything like that," Jones said with a laugh before heading down to the cage. "I've sat close, but I've never gotten that close."

He then added to a rodeo newbie: "You might want to be nervous."

Jones sat there with his eyes were glued to the action -- yes, he kept his hands well inside the cage. He did some filming with his phone and delivered a quick social media post with a videographer he had with him while watching the action.

During the afternoon, Jones also stood with Triplett as he prepared to get on the bull. He also watched from a perch above the stables where the television crews were located.

Through it all, Jones' expression didn't change much. Maybe there was an occasional smile when a driver did well or a point at something that caught his eye. He mostly watched and absorbed it, the same qualities (in addition to racing talent) that lifted him to race in the NASCAR Cup Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. Considered one of the top young talents, the 22-year-old Jones has made the playoffs in his second year and also earned his first Cup victory by capturing the Daytona race in July.

After that win Jones stepped out of the car and exclaimed: "Oh boy, how about that race, boys and girls? That was something else!"

That emotion wasn't there when watching the bull riding, which is to be expected. Jones was more in the quiet-having-fun type mindset with a couple of his buddies, having a few adult beverages and absorbing the afternoon in a way he rarely has time to do.

The one thing Jones couldn't do was get on a bull, something that would have to come when it wasn't a day of competition. There were about 60 bulls ready for the event Sunday, and they handle only one rider in a day.

Some might be skeptical, but those who know Jones believe he really would get on a bull. He's a work-hard, play-hard kind of guy.

But he isn't a worrier. He sits 21 points behind the current cutoff to advance to the second round of the playoffs. He'll need a win or a lot of help to advance Sunday in what many expect will be an unpredictable race on the new Charlotte road course.

"I'm pretty calm for the most part," Jones said as he sat in the stands prior to watching the bull riders. "I don't think I'll be too worked up this week. We'll control what we can at Charlotte. There's opportunity for a lot of guys to have trouble.

"If we can have a solid race, we've got to unfortunately hope for some guys to have something go wrong. We'll see how it goes."

His boss has some advice.

"It's Erik's first go around on this," Joe Gibbs said. "I think he'll just have at it."

So maybe if Jones learned anything at the bull-riding competition, that should be it. Those men, and bulls, have at it.