As a certified scuba diver, Erik Jones already knows a thing or two about diving head-first into unchartered territories. After two successful part-time voyages in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the 18-year-old Rookie of the Year candidate plunges into his first full-time expedition with high expectations as he prepares to butt heads with the sharks of the Truck Series in an effort to deliver Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) its treasured first-ever driver's championship.
Jones' quest for a championship begins with Friday night's NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The season-opening event will mark the Michigan native's first start in any series at the 2.5-mile oval and just his second career start on a superspeedway. He cut his restrictor-plate racing teeth last October at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where he qualified sixth and finished sixth.
Daytona will be one of 10 tracks on the 2015 schedule that the talented youngster will tackle for the first time in a Tundra. Jones has accumulated four wins, two poles, seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes across his first 17 starts running a part-time schedule the last two seasons. After being a part of two Truck Series Owner's Championships with KBM's No. 51 Tundra team, he moves over this season to a full-time gig behind the wheel of the No. 4 Tundra, but he will be brining eight members of that squad with him, four primary crew members and four over-the-wall crew members.
A familiar face will be atop the pit box for Jones this season in Ryan "Rudy" Fugle. Fugle led KBM's No. 51 Tundra team to a series-leading six wins, including Jones' first-career victory at Phoenix International Raceway, and a Truck Series Owner's Championship as crew chief in 2013. He also contributed to an additional 11 wins in his role as race engineer for the organization during the 2012 and 2014 seasons.
To earn the Truck Series Driver's championship this season, Jones will most likely have to outduel two-time reigning champion Matt Crafton. While running a full season for a driver's championship will be a new experience, battling against Crafton and his team will feel just like old times for Jones and several crew members he brought with him to the No. 4 team this year, as the No. 88 team finished second in the owner's championship standings to KBM's No. 51 team each of the last two seasons. Jones finished ahead of Crafton in seven of his 12 starts last season, including seven of the last 10 times he climbed behind the wheel of the ToyotaCare Tundra.
With 39 wins and three owner's championships since debuting in the Truck Series in 2010, there are not many accolades that KBM has yet to receive. When the checkered flag falls on the 2015 season, Jones is hoping that he emerges atop of the Truck Series talent pool and takes the team to a place it has never been by delivering KBM's first-ever driver's championship.