NASCAR's young crop of talent was on display Friday night in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol 200 presented by Enogen at Iowa Speedway in Newton. When the dust settled, it was 18-year-old Erik Jones who proved to be the cream of the crop, coming from his second starting position to lead 131 laps en route to his first win of 2014 and his second in just nine career starts in NASCAR's third division.
Jones' pit crew helped him regain the lead after a four-tire pit stop under caution on lap 128 and then the talented wheelman was able to remain out front for all but one lap the rest of the way, when he got slowed by lap traffic and ended up in a three-wide battle with Ryan Blaney with 16 laps remaining. Blaney and Jones bounced off each other and a lap vehicle and Blaney was able to take the lead momentarily. One lap later, Kyle Busch Motorsports' (KBM) youngster put his Tundra back out front, where he remained for the rest of the race en route to the No. 51 ToyotaCare Racing team's sixth victory of the season. The win was the seventh overall for KBM in 2014 and a series-record 11th consecutive triumph for Toyota, including all nine this season.
"That was awesome -- we definitely drove it hard and this thing had nothing left in at the end," said Jones, who picked up KBM's first career win at Iowa Speedway. "That was a great race with Ryan (Blaney) -- great competitor and a great guy to race against. He raced me hard, race me clean and we have always showed a lot of respect to each other. Happy to get this ToyotaCare Tundra to victory lane for everyone at KBM -- the pit crew did a great job. I have to thank Joe Gibbs Racing Engines, ButlerBuilt Seats, Camping World and the fans."
Jones posted the fastest time early in the second of two rounds of knockout qualifying earlier in the day and appeared to be in line for his first career pole award as the session wound down. With just over a minute remaining, his KBM teammate Darrell Wallace Jr. knocked him down to the second position and after one last run at the pole by the No. 51 team, the Michigan native would have to settle for his third career runner-up starting position.
When the green flag dropped, Wallace remained out front with Jones behind him in second until a one-car spin brought out the first caution of the race on lap 40. Crew chief Eric Phillips summoned his young driver to pit road, where the over-the-wall crew administered a four-tire and fuel stop with a trackbar adjustment to try and improve the "loose on exit," condition reported by the driver in the early stages. A lightning fast stop allowed the No. 51 ToyotaCare Tundra to win the battle off pit road and take the lead for the first time of the night.
Jones was able to hold off Wallace Jr. on the ensuing restart and by the halfway mark of the 200-lap event had opened up one-second lead on the field. Heavy lap traffic slowed the youngsters' lap times and on lap 104 Blaney was not only able to catch him, but worked his way around him. Over the next 25 laps, KBM's young driver settled into the second position and was told several times, "take care of your stuff, long way to go."
A one-car spin on lap 127 slowed the field for the fourth and final time, setting up what would be the 'money' round of pit stops. Jones communicated to Phillips that his Tundra was "a touch snug," before bringing it to the attention of his over-the-wall crew. Another lightning fast four-tire stop by the over-the-wall crew allowed the No. 51 team to win the battle off pit road.
On the ensuing restart, Jones was able to clear Blaney as the field entered Turn 3 and then began to slowly pull away. 30 laps later, Jones had opened up a 1.3-second lead, but lap traffic would become a factor in the closing laps. By lap 175 the lead had shrunk in half and with Jones in heavy traffic, Blaney was able to momentarily take the lead with a three-wide pass. The calm and confident Jones battled his way back away around his competitor one lap later and was able to remain out front for the remainder of the race.
The win was Jones first across four starts in 2014 and his second in just nine career starts in Truck Series competition. Blaney crossed the stripe 0.629 seconds behind him in the runner-up position. Matt Crafton, Joey Coulter and German Quiroga rounded out the top-five finishers. Jones' KBM teammate Wallace Jr. led the first 41 laps before an untimely caution shortly after he made a green-flag stop put him two laps down and relegated him to a 13th-place finish.
The win was Toyota's 11th straight dating back to Jones' win at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway last November, the longest win streak by any manufacturer in the history of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. For KBM, it marked the team's 10th win across the last 13 Truck Series races, dating back to Wallace Jr.'s historic win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last October.
The ninth race of the 2014 season featured four cautions for a total of 19 laps. There were six lead changes among four drivers. With Wallace Jr.'s 41 laps led, KBM drivers combined to lead 172 of the 200 laps. The No. 51 team maintained the lead in the Owner's point standings with its sixth victory of the season and currently sits 38 points ahead of the No. 88 team.