Erik Jones put together a solid debut campaign in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2013, becoming the youngest winner in series history at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway last November and finishing inside the top 10 in each of his five starts. Statistically speaking, the talented wheelman has shown signs of improvement across his first three starts of his 12-race schedule in 2014, but late-race misfortunes have kept the 18-year-old from having the results to show for it.
Carrying over the momentum of his dominant performance at Phoenix last November, where he led a race-high 84 laps en route to his historic victory, Jones has gone from running near or just inside the top 10 last season, to running solidly inside the top five this season. His Average Starting Position has improved over nine spots, his Average Running Position has improved over four spots and his Average Mid-Race Position has improved nearly eight spots. Unfortunately, due to no doing of his own, the Michigan native's best finish so far this season is an 11th-place result at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and thanks to getting spun twice late in the race, he has recorded an Average Finish of 17.3 this year compared to 6.0 last season.
Jones' misfortunes were none more evident than in his last series start at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill. After running second for a majority of the race, the racing prodigy worked his way to the front of the field on a late restart. His lead was short lived, after getting a touch loose exiting Turn 2, German Quiroga plowed into him and sent him crashing hard into the inside wall down the backstretch. The incident sent the No. 51 ToyotaCare Tundra to the garage for the remainder of the race and left the team with a disappointing 23rd-plae finish.
Gateway wasn't the only race where the 2014 NASCAR Next class member was sent spinning late in the race, he also had a top-five run taken from him in his season debut at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in March. Jones linedup fifth for the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish in the 250-lap event, but as the field headed down the backstretch, he got turned into the inside wall by Johnny Sauter. After lengthy repairs in the pits, Jones restarted 20th and after picking up a couple positions in the closing laps came home 18th.
While he wasn't sent spinning in his start at Texas Motor Speedway in June, Jones battled a loose-handling Tundra in the closing laps and went from running fifth with 27 laps remaining to eighth with 17 to go. After having to pit for fuel in the closing laps, while a handful of competitors were able to make it to the end after pitting later in the race, the No. 51 Tundra ended the day with an 11th-place finish.
The talented youngster now heads west to Iowa Speedway, where in just his third career Truck Series start he nearly he posted a runner-up finish to Timothy Peters in last year's American Ethanol 200. Jones will be looking to rebound from a tough start to the 2014 season and end his fourth start this season with a positive spin -- doing doughnuts on the frontstretch of the .875-mile track.