Originally created 06/04/99

Jones' star rising in CART series



WEST ALLIS, Wis. -- P.J. Jones didn't burst onto the scene like some second-generation racers. The son of former Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones, P.J. has spent a long, hard apprenticeship.

Now, 30, it looks like P.J. may finally be on the verge of stardom.

He carries a string of four top 12 finishes, including a career-best second last month in Nazareth, Pa., into Sunday's Miller Lite 225 at the Milwaukee Mile.

In his fourth season in the CART FedEx Championship Series, and his first year with Patrick Racing, Jones may be ready to become the dominating driver that many expected when he graduated from sports cars to Champ cars.

"I feel confident in where I am and where I am going," Jones said. "Obviously, I would have liked this opportunity with Patrick Racing to have come along a few years ago, but it didn't work out that way. Sometimes you just have to take things as they come."

The elder Jones, who won here in 1964, said his son's three seasons with Dan Gurney's All-American Racers team, struggling to develop an underpowered Toyota engine, slowed P.J.'s development.

"I don't really think P.J. had much of an opportunity to show what he was capable of until he came to the Patrick team," Parnelli said. "Not taking anything away from where he was before, but they were still in a development stage there. P.J. just got really complacent over there.

"In my mind success breeds success and failure breeds failure and not just from the driver's standpoint but with the whole crew. You have to have some feeling that you are going to do well and have something to get you pumped up."

Jones and the rest of the CART racers begin practice here Friday, with qualifying on Saturday.

P.J., who will make his 49th career start on Sunday, has been particularly effective on short ovals like the one in this Milwaukee suburb.

"I think my dirt track experience definitely plays a part in it," he said. "I think that's a reason I have always been strong at places like Milwaukee. But, in the past I have not been in the position to really show it.

"Even last year, we were running seventh before I had a problem. I think I have a good feel for setting up the car here and I think that place suits my driving style."

The biggest problem for Jones and the rest of the CART drivers will be a decision by the sanctioning body to slow the cars by using small rear wings on the short ovals. The stubby wings also make the cars more difficult to handle through the turns and in traffic.

"I don't care what kind of wings they put on the cars," Jones said. "I just want something that we can race with."

The Milwaukee Mile is the only CART track where both father and son have raced.

"It's a real drivers' track and obviously you need a car that works, but I think he will do well here," Parnelli said. "Last year, he ran quite well here. P.J. passed a lot of cars, but then the car went loose on him.

"It's a good drivers' track. Although they took a lot of downforce out of the car with the new wings, I do think it puts a little bit back into the driver's hands. That should be to P.J.'s advantage."