Erik Jones Ready to Start Narrowing the 'Cushion' in the Championship Battle

Last year's 1-800-CAR-CASH Mud Summer Classic at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio marked the first start on dirt in any series for Kyle Busch Motorsports' driver Erik Jones. Despite his lack of dirt experience Jones showed speed in the early stages of the event, but after suffering suspension damage late in the first segment of the race ended the night with a disappointing 29th-place finish. The Michigan native will be looking to sling his way to a strong finish Wednesday night and end the first half of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season on a high note in an effort to start shredding into Matt Crafton's lead in the championship standings.

Jones dirt debut at Eldora last year got off to a promising start as the talented youngster turned the fastest lap of the day's two practice sessions, captured his first-ever NASCAR Camping World Truck Series pole, led wire-to-wire in his heat race and led the first 24 laps of the 150-lap race. A cut tire on lap 25 caused him to spin shortly after and brought out the first caution of the race. After beginning to work his way back through the field he made contact with the wall which resulted in suspension damage. The damage forced him to bring his Tundra to the attention of his crew in the pits and after a lengthy stay for repairs, he returned to the track six laps down and limped to a disappointing 29th-place finish.

With Eldora being the lone dirt-track race on the Truck Series schedule, many consider it a wild card in the quest for the championship. With 10 races in the books this season Jones has collected one win and six top-three finishes en route to an average finish of 6.9, which is better than the final average finish of the last four Truck Series champions. Despite a strong start, he finds himself third in the championship standings, 29 points behind points leader Matt Crafton. Crafton has recorded an average finish of 4.7 thanks in part to a career-high four victories, while on the strength of two wins Tyler Reddick sits second in the standings with an average finish of 5.7.

Crafton has recorded an average finish of 8.5 across the first two events at Eldora and has yet to lead a lap at the half-mile clay oval. Adding to the possibilities of Jones being able to gain points in Wednesday's event is the fact that the race will feature several drivers with extensive dirt experience, including inaugural winner Austin Dillon and his brother Ty, Ken Schrader and Jones' KBM teammate Christopher Bell, providing more drivers capable of finishing higher than Crafton than a normal Truck Series event.

If Jones can put together a top-three run at Eldora, it should present him with the opportunity to start narrowing the 'cushion' in the championship battle as the Truck Series takes the crossed flags on the 2015 season.

Speedway Digest Staff

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