Erik Jones Tends to Monkey Business
Entering the American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Erik Jones had led 50 or more laps in each of the past five NASCAR Camping World Truck series events but various misfortunes had kept him from victory lane. Jones got the monkey off his back Friday night, starting from the pole and leading 112 of 200 laps to harvest his first win of 2015 and back-to-back victories at the .875-mile oval.
"This win has been a long time coming and it sure feels good to get it here at Iowa," said Jones of his first victory of 2015. "This is kind of where we turned our season around last year and got our Tundra into victory lane. It's just awesome man -- having Special Olympics World Games on the truck is so cool. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) engines, Camping World and all the fans. What a day -- sat on the pole, led a ton of laps and won a race. That's how you do it and it feels good to finally put it all together to get the win at the end of the day."
The 19-year-old paced the lone practice session Friday morning and then turned the fastest lap in all three rounds of knockout qualifying later in the afternoon to earn his third pole of the season and fifth of his career. When the green flag dropped his Tundra was just as fast and Jones quickly pulled away from the field. By the time the first caution of the race occurred on lap 25, he had opened nearly a two second lead.
Jones maintained his lead until the first round of pit stops occurred after a lap-42 accident. Before coming to pit road for the first time, he reported that his Special Olympics World Games Tundra was "a little tight," in the early stages of the race. Crew chief Rudy Fugle ordered up a four-tire and fuel stop with a wedge adjustment to try and improve the handling of his young driver's Toyota.
With teams employing varying pit strategies, the No. 4 team took the lap-50 restart from the seventh position. Rooted back in traffic, the tightness became more prevalent for Jones during a long green-flag run and by the time the race reached the halfway mark he had only advanced up to the third spot. Just before the team was ready to make a scheduled green-flag stop, a one-truck spin slowed the field for the fourth time on lap 122.
Jones reported that he needed more lateral grip, which Fugle addressed with an air pressure adjustment on the four fresh Goodyear tires that went on the Special Olympics World Games Tundra. The over-the-wall crew returned their driver to the track scored in the second position for the ensuing restart on lap 127. KBM's young driver cleared two-time reigning Truck Series champion Matt Crafton and remained out front until the next caution slowed the race on lap 152.
The over-the-wall crew put the final set of sticker tires on the No. 4 Tundra and returned their driver to the track for the closing stages of the races. With teams once again on varying strategies, Jones took the lap-156 restart from the fourth position. He quickly worked his way to the front and was scored the leader just before the sixth and final caution slowed the field on lap 157.
The talented youngster held serve on the ensuing restart and slowly began to pull away from the field. Jones wouldn't be denied victory this time around and as the race closed on a 36-lap green-flag run distanced himself by a straightaway on runner-up finisher Brandon Jones.
Jones picked up the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win of 2015 and his fifth victory in just 26 career starts. Brandon Jones finished 5.860 seconds behind Erik Jones in the runner-up spot. Tyler Reddick crossed the stripe in the third position and Matt Crafton fourth. Christopher Bell, Jones' KBM teammate, brought home a fifth-place finish in his Truck Series debut. Justin Boston in the KBM No. 54 ROK Mobile Tundra came home 11th.
The ninth race of the 2015 season featured six cautions for a total of 36 laps. There were six lead changes among five drivers, including Jones who led three times for a race-high 112 laps.
With nine of 23 races completed, Jones sits third in the championship standings - 26 tallies behind points leader Matt Crafton.