Minutes after receiving his high school diploma in a pre-race ceremony on the frontstretch at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, 18-year-old Erik Jones was tested for the first time on a 1.5-mile track in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The talented youngster showed veteran poise throughout the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400, running solidly inside the top five for the majority of the race. However, in the closing stages of the 167-lap event, the combination of a loose-handling Hiring Our Heroes/ToyotaCare Tundra and varying pit strategies from other competitors left the Michigan native with an 11th-place finish.
"We started out pretty good and were able to run up towards the front for the majority of the race, but at the end we just got too free," Jones said. "Overall, not a terrible night for this No. 51 Hiring Our Heroes/ToyotaCare Tundra considering it was my first time on a mile-and-a-half track in this series. I learned a lot about how to work the air and work around guys. I feel like I'll be more prepared now for the next one and we'll be really good. Looking forward to being back in this No. 51 Tundra again next week at Gateway (Motorsports Park)."
Participating in his first-ever knockout qualifying session, Jones advanced to the final round of qualifying and earned the fifth starting spot for the race. After the green flag flew, the racing prodigy quickly adapted to racing on a 1.5-mile track and by lap 20 had advanced into the third position. He remained in the third spot when the first caution of the night occurred on lap 35. Crew Chief Eric Phillips summoned his young driver to pit road for a four-tire and fuel slop.
After sliding through his pit stall and having to be pushed back inside the box, the over-the-wall crew completed the stop and returned their driver to the track scored in the sixth position for the lap-39 restart. Once back green, Jones communicated that his Tundra was "loose through the center" and was unable to advance back into the top five before the next caution occurred on lap 45. When the leader hit pit road, Phillips once again summoned his pilot to pit road, this time for a full fuel load and multiple adjustments to try and improve the handling of the truck.
The Michigan native took the lap-64 restart from the third position and one lap later advanced into the second spot. Still battling a loose-handling Tundra, Jones fell back to the fourth spot by lap 70. As the long green-flag run ensued, the talented youngster reported, "it's loose for four or five laps and then gets really good." He quickly caught Ron Hornaday Jr., who was running in the third spot, but every time he went maneuver around him, the veteran driver would change his line to block Jones' progress.
Reporting that his Toyota had become "free everywhere," Jones seemed to slide sideways off the exit of each corner and fell back to fifth position just before the third and final caution of the event occurred on lap 104. When pit road opened, he brought his Tundra to the attention of his over-the-wall crew, who administered a four-tire and fuel stop and returned him to the track in the fourth spot.
As the race proceeded caution free the rest of the way, Jones battled fellow youngsters Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr. for position, running between the third and fifth spots until lap 147. Once again reporting that his Hiring Our Heroes/ToyotaCare Tundra had gotten extremely loose, he subsided to the ninth position on lap 155 when he was summoned to pit road for the final time. After getting fresh right side tires and enough fuel to make it the final 12 laps, he returned to the track scored one lap down in the 15th position.
Over the final 10 laps, some drivers were forced to pit for fuel and others were able to make it the distance, including race leader Matt Crafton. Jones was able to pick up four positions in the closing laps and finished his seventh career Truck Series race scored one lap down in the 11th position.
Crafton collected his second win this season and the fifth of his Truck Series career. Justin Lofton finished 13.302 seconds behind Crafton in the runner-up position. Joe Nemechek, Blaney and John Wes Townley rounded out the top-five finishers. Jones KBM teammate, Wallace Jr., finished one lap down in the 10th spot.
The sixth race of the 2014 season featured four cautions for a total of 23 laps. There were eight lead changes among three drivers. The No. 51 team maintained the lead in the Owner's point standings and currently sits 18 markers ahead of the No. 88 team.
Jones returns to the No. 51 ToyotaCare Tundra when the Truck Series resumes action at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill. Saturday, June 14. Live coverage of the Drivin' for Linemen 200 on Fox Sports 1 begins with the Truck Series Setup Show at 8:00 p.m. ET.