A pair of Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) Tundras were out front for 110 of the 146 laps in Saturday night's Rhino Linings 350 at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway, with Erik Jones working his way around teammate Bubba Wallace, who led a race-high 84 laps, with 13 laps to go to capture his third NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory in just his 14th career start. The win was the talented youngster's second this season, the No. 51 ToyotaCare team's series-leading eighth of 2014 and the first for the organization at KBM team owner Kyle Busch's home-state track.
"To get my first win on a mile-and-a-half is awesome -- that was a blast and I learned a ton," said Jones, who was making just his second career Truck Series start on a 1.5-mile venue. "I had this marked down as a race that I was looking forward to and I wanted to win it so bad -- cool to win with Project Pink onboard. This is really surreal to me right now and it means so much to me. We had a really fast ToyotaCare Tundra at the start of the race, but it got really loose before that last pit stop. Eric (Phillips, crew chief) made a big swing at the end -- he said everybody thought he was crazy with the adjustment he made, but it was perfect."
Jones started from the 13th position after an adventurous knockout-qualifying session Saturday afternoon. The Michigan native posted the second-fastest time in the first round of three rounds, but in the second round a one-truck spin brought out the red flag before he completed a lap. With just 18 seconds remaining, it was impossible to make it back to the green flag before time expired in the round. The NASCAR officials working the No. 51 team's pit stall told crew chief Eric Phillips that with only five trucks completing a lap, that the final seven trucks to advance to the final round would be based off round one speeds. A scoring glitch showed six trucks completing an extremely slow lap, leaving only one truck to advance on round one speed.
With several slow trucks starting inside the top 12, things got bottled up when the field took the green flag and Jones got shuffled back to the 17th position when he crossed the stripe for the first time. By the time the second caution of the race occurred on lap 15, the talented youngster had advanced up to the sixth position. When the race went back green, he began to maneuver his way to the front. The No. 51 ToyotaCare/Project Pink Tundra was in the third position on lap 20, advanced to the runner-up position one lap later and worked his away around defending race winner Timothy Peters for the lead on lap 27.
With some teams experiencing extreme tire wear in practice, NASCAR implemented a competition caution on lap 30. Jones hit pit road for the first time, but slid through his box and had to be pushed back into his stall before the over-the-wall crew could administer their four-tire and fuel stop. After service was completed, the No. 51 Tundra returned to the track scored in the sixth spot for the ensuing restart.
Jones advanced up to the third position on lap 37, but communicated to crew chief Eric Phillips that his Toyota was beginning to move to the "free side." The NASCAR Next driver remained third when the field was slowed for the fourth and final time on lap 55, setting up another round of pit stops. After getting four fresh tires, a full load of fuel and a trackbar adjustment, he returned to the track scored in the fifth position for the lap-61 restart.
As the race settled into a long green-flag run to the finish, Jones remained inside the top five, but communicated that his ToyotaCare/Project Pink Tundra was "so loose, I can't do anything with it." On lap 116, Jones made his final visit to pit road for four fresh tires, a full load of fuel and what Phillips described as a "big swing" on the air pressure in the tires to try and improve the handling of the team's Toyota.
When green-flag stops cycled through on lap 122, Jones found himself in the second spot, just over a second behind his teammate Wallace Jr. With the handling of the No. 51 improved, he began reeling in the leader. Five laps later the gap was under a half second and on lap 133 he pulled along his teammate down the backstretch, completed the pass coming of Turn 4 and then cruised to victory.
Jones picked up his first payday on a mile-and-a-half track and KBM's 10th Truck Series win as an organization in 2014. His KBM teammate, Wallace Jr., who now six top-two finishes over the last 11 races, finished 1.329 seconds behind him in the runner-up position. Matt Crafton, Timothy Peters and Brian Ickler rounded out Toyota's sweep of the top-five positions.
The 17th race of the 2014 season featured four cautions for a total of 17 laps. There were 18 lead changes among 10 drivers, including Jones who led twice for 19 laps. The No. 51 moved up one position to second in the Owner's point standings, currently three points behind the series leading No. 88 team with five races remaining.
Jones returns to the wheel of the No. 51 ToyotaCare Tundra when the Truck Series resumes action at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on Oct. 18. Live coverage of the fred's 250 will air on Fox beginning with the Truck Series Setup Show at 1 p.m. ET. The 94-lap event will be the teenager's first career superspeedway start.