Earlier this season, Erik Jones visited Iowa Speedway in Newton for his third NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the venue and led 131 of the American Ethanol 200 en route to victory. Saturday, Jones will be in search of a similar result as he takes to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in his No. 51 ToyotaCare Tundra for his third start at the .526-mile oval.
Last April at "The Paperclip," Jones became the first 16-year-old to compete in a Truck Series event since his team owner Kyle Busch did so in October of 2001. In his Truck Series debut, the talented teenager advanced from the 19th starting position to as high as fourth in the closing laps. The Michigan native was in position for a top- five finish with under 10 laps remaining, but lost a handful of positions in the closing laps after he found himself on the wrong end of a Martinsville bump-and-run.
Jones returned to Martinsville for his 2014 Truck Series debut in March and put together another strong run. When qualifying was rained out, he earned the fourth starting position based on practice speeds per the NASCAR rule book. He worked his way up to the third position mid race and was scored in the fifth spot for the field's first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. Shortly after the restart, he got turned by Johnny Sauter as the field headed down the backstretch and his Tundra was sent spinning hard into the inside wall. After a quick trip down pit road to allow his over-the-wall crew to clear the fenders, Jones took the second attempt to finish from the 20th position and was able to gain two spots over the final laps to end the day with an undeserving 18th-place finish.
The disappointing finish at Martinsville was part of a rough start to the 2014 season for Jones. After earning top-10 finishes in all five of his Truck Series starts in 2013, his win at Iowa in July was his only top-10 result across his first five starts this season, despite registering an Average Running Position of 7.1 during those events. The racing prodigy has rebounded to finish inside the top 10 in each of his last five Truck Series starts this season, including his third career win at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway in late September.
Jones now heads to Martinsville in search of Kyle Busch Motorsports fourth consecutive win in the Kroger 200. Denny Hamlin won the fall Truck Series event at Martinsville back-to-back in 2011 and 2012 and Darrell Wallace Jr. claimed his historic victory there last October. Jones is hoping that the third time is the charm, as it was in Iowa earlier this season, and he leaves Virginia with the iconic grandfather clock in tow.