When the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule was announced, the first race that Erik Jones circled was the Careers for Veterans 200 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The 19-year-old grew up 70 miles from the 2-mile oval and Saturday's race offered the rising star his first chance to race in front of friends and family at his home-state track. Despite battling a tight-handling Tundra and getting shuffled back on a late-race restart, Jones brought the No. 4 Toyota Tundra home in the third spot and closed the gap in the Truck Series championship standings to single digits with 10 races remaining.
"We were just a little off all day unfortunately," said Jones, who posted his fifth consecutive top-10 finish in the Truck Series. "We had to work pretty hard to get it back to where we needed it to be and had to pit there with like 25 (laps) to go or so and loosen it way up. It wasn't quite enough of an adjustment of what we needed, but it got us close and we were able to make some good moves on restarts and get back up to third. That's a good point's day for us, we're only nine (points) back and that's really nice to say, really nice to feel for the first time this year - we're back in it. We just have to keep doing the same thing and keep having these good weeks and keep having good trucks. We'll have our Tundra up there before too long."
After qualifying seventh, Jones had fell back to ninth when the second caution of the race set up the first round of pit stops on lap 25. Crew chief Rudy Fugle ordered up a right-side tires and fuel stop with a chassis adjustment to try and improve the handling for his young driver and gain track position. The No. 4 Tundra was the second truck off pit road, but KBM owner-driver Kyle Busch was tagged for speeding on pit road and sent to the rear of the field for the restart.
Jones took advantage of the clean air and remained out front for the next nine laps. The Michigan native reported a tight Tundra once again and fell back to the third position as the field settled into a long green-flag run. He surrendered the fourth position on lap 63 to visit pit road for four fresh tires with an air pressure adjustment and a full tank of fuel.
After pit stops cycled through on lap 69, the No. 4 Tundra team was scored in the third position. A debris caution slowed the field on lap 70 and Jones' boss Kyle Busch selected the inside lane on the ensuing restart to be lined up in front of his teammate. Jones locked to his bumper and helped him preserve the lead, but found himself three-wide in the middle lane and quickly fell back to the ninth position.
The fourth caution of the event slowed the field on lap 77 and Jones reported that his Tundra was "so tight - can't do anything." With just a handful of trucks behind them on the lead lap, Fugle summoned his young driver to pit road for a trackbar adjustment and to top off with fuel.
Jones took the lap-81 restart from the 17th position and by the time another caution slowed the field a lap later he had already advanced up to the 12th spot. Another strong restart on lap 89 allowed the No. 4 Tundra to gain five more spots and a lap later it moved into the sixth spot, where it remained when the final caution of the race flew on lap 90.
The field went back green with six laps remaining and Jones knew that he had to be aggressive if he was going to brick home a win for the home-state crowd. He got a strong run on the outside and made things three-wide for the lead, but was unable to complete the maneuver and settled into the third position behind Busch and the 29 truck of Ryan Blaney. The No. 4 Tundra made one last attempt to get to the front off of Turn 4 on the final lap, but wasn't able to get past the top-two trucks before the checkered flag waved.
Busch brought home the 44th Truck Series win of his career and his 149th across NASCAR's top-three divisions. Blaney finished 0.157 seconds behind Busch in the runner-up position. Jones finished third, while Johnny Sauter and Austin Dillon rounded out the top-five finishers. Cody Coughlin, making his KBM debut in the No. 54 Tundra, was on the cusp of a top-10 finish before getting caught up in a late race accident and ended the day in the 20th position.
The 12th race of the 2015 season featured six cautions for a total of 26 laps. There were 15 lead changes among six drivers, including Jones who led twice for a 16 laps.
With 13 of 23 races completed, Jones sits third in the Truck Series driver's championship standings - nine tallies behind points leader Tyler Reddick.
Jones will be back behind the wheel of the No. 4 Tundra when the Truck Series resumes action Aug. 19 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Live coverage of the UNOH 200 begins with the NCWTS Setup Show at 8 p.m. ET