Dominant Jones Salvages Top-10 Finish After Late-Race Accident
For the third straight year Erik Jones had the dominant truck in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway, leading 106 of the first 120 laps before his
bid for a three-peat was derailed when two-time reigning champion Matt Crafton made a rookie mistake while the two were battling for the lead late in the race. Jones was working his way around the outside of Crafton on lap 121, when Crafton drove his Tundra too deep into Turn 4, slid up the track and pile drove the No. 4 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra into the outside wall.
After two trips down pit road for damage repair, the Michigan native restarted the race from the 11th position on lap 126. He was able to pick up two spots in the closing laps and salvaged a ninth-place finish. Coming off his 14th consecutive top-10 finish, Jones heads into the series finale at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway with a 19-point advantage over Tyler Reddick as he attempts to become the youngest champion in Truck Series history. Crafton fell to third in the standings and will be eliminated from the championship battle when the field takes the green flag at the Florida track.
"It's unfortunate, we were racing for the win and that kind of situation happens, but everybody makes mistakes and Matt (Crafton) made one tonight," Jones said of the late-race incident. "It cost both of us a shot at the win. It doesn't take away from the fact that we had a really fast Tundra. I thought we definitely had the best truck here all night. Still have a 19-point lead and we can go to Homestead and have a 15th-place day -- hopefully we can do that. It's just unfortunate, wish we could have raced for the win."
Jones started Friday off by posting the fastest time in all three rounds of knockout qualifying, setting a new track record with a lap of 26.179 seconds at 137.515 mph in the final round. Despite reporting that his Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra was "too tight" in the early stages of the race, the NASCAR Next alum remained out front 39 of the first 41 laps before visiting pit road for the first time under caution.
The No. 4 over-the-wall team made quick work of a right-side tire and fuel stop while administering a wedge adjustment, and Jones retained the lead when the race went back green on lap 44. After another quick caution on lap 46, a long green-flag run ensued in the middle stages or the race. The Michigan native was able to open up a two-second lead on Crafton on lap 75, but due to a combination of lap traffic and a tight-handling Tundra his lead had dwindled to under a second when a one-truck accident slowed the field for the fifth time on lap 105.
Jones led the lead-lap trucks down pit road and after a slow four-tire and fuel stop with a trackbar adjustment emerged from pit road in the runner-up spot for the lap-109 restart. The talented youngster tucked in behind Crafton and patiently waited for his opportunity to regain the lead. Another one-truck accident slowed the field for the sixth time on lap 116.
Crafton picked the outside for the ensuing restart and he and Jones raced side-by-side through Turns 1 and 2 and down the backstretch. Jones was able to carry more momentum into Turn 3 and inched past Crafton as the two Tundra drivers headed into Turn 4. Crafton was reluctant to let Jones past him and drove too hard into Turn 4, causing his truck to get loose on the bottom of the truck and catapult up the track into Jones as the two were entering the frontstretch.
Timothy Peters was the beneficiary of the accident between the top two trucks as he collected his second Truck Series win of 2015. Peters crossed the finish line .309 seconds ahead of runner-up finisher John Hunter Nemechek. John Wes Townley finished third, KBM driver Daniel Suarez was fourth and Tyler Reddick rounded out the top-five finishers. Matt Tifft in KBM's No. 54 Tundra finished eighth in his final start of the season. KBM newcomer William Byron was relegated to a 31st-place finish after getting caught up in an accident on lap seven.
The 22nd race of the 2015 season featured seven cautions for a total of 37 laps. There were nine lead changes among four drivers, including Jones who led five times for a race-high 106 laps.
Jones will be back behind the wheel of the No. 4 Toyota Tundra for the Truck Series season finale Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway. Live coverage of the 134-lap event begins with the NCWTS Setup Show at 7:30 p.m. ET.
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