Resilient Jones Comes Up Just Short at Charlotte

Just over a month after 18-year-old Erik Jones turned heads in the racing world by outdueling NASCAR Sprint Cup Stars Brad Keselwoski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to pick up his first NASCAR XFINITY Series win, the racing prodigy once again showcased his enormous talent as he went toe-to-toe with another Sprint Cup star in Friday night's N.C. Education Lottery 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. This time around, Jones battled side-by-side with Kasey Kahne for the entirety of the green-white-checkered finished, but his Dollar General Tundra was edged at the stripe by 0.005 seconds in the second-closest finish in Truck Series history.


Jones, who started from the back of the field after being late to the driver's meeting because he was held by television for a post-qualifying interview, showed the resiliency of a veteran throughout Friday night's event. After the green flag dropped, the Michigan native methodically worked his way to the front. The Dollar General Tundra made its way inside the top 10 on lap 10, the top five on lap 15 and then took the lead for the first time on lap 26.  For the second straight week, the No. 4 team showed they had the truck to beat, opening up a lead of over seven seconds late in the race until a caution slowed the field with 29 laps remaining.


On the ensuing restart Jones and Kahne battled side-by-side for six laps, with Kahne being ruled the leader when a one-truck accident slowed the field for the fourth time with 17 laps remaining.  The Sprint Cup Series star was able to clear the rising talent on the lap-122 restart and distanced himself by five truck lengths with five circuits left. The resilient youngster dug down deep and was able to reel in Kahne, then blasted past him to regain the lead with three laps remaining. The Dollar General slowly inched away as the final lap approached, but a truck got into the wall just before the field took the one to go and set up the spectacular green-white-checkered finish.


"It's just really hard, we had such a good Dollar General Tundra," said Jones, who suffered a heartbreaking defeat for the second consecutive week after running out of fuel late while leading the race at Kansas Speedway. "It's just really a shame that we can't bring it home. It just hurts two weeks in a row happening like that. We can't get the trucks any better -- we just need to get something to go our way. It just hasn't gone our way yet -- I really thought tonight was the night and we'll just have to go out and try to get one next time."


Kahne picked up his fifth NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win in six career starts. Jones finished 0.005 seconds behind Kahne in the runner-up position. Matt Crafton crossed the stripe in the third position, while Tyler Reddick and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five finishers. Jones' KBM teammates Matt Tifft and Justin Boston finished eighth and ninth, respectively.


The fifth race of the 2015 season featured five cautions for a total of 25 laps. There were 12 lead changes among six drivers, including Jones who led four times for a race-high 88 laps. For the fourth time in five races, Jones collected the Rookie of the Race Award.


With five of 23 races on the 2015 schedule complete, Jones ranks second in the championship standings - 16 points behind points leader Matt Crafton. 


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Steven B. Wilson

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