Jones' Top-Three Run Halted by Late-Race Incident
Erik Jones came from his seventh starting position and was running second when a caution came out with less than 30 laps remaining in the UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. With track position being crucial at the "Magic Mile," the No. 51 ToyotaCare/Project Pink team elected to keep their young driver on the track, while other teams employed two and four-tire stops. Jones restarted with the lead on the ensuing restart, but shortly found himself on the outside of a three-wide battle and was forced into the outside wall. After pitting for four fresh tires and some minor damage repair under caution, Jones the Michigan native restarted from the 11th position with 15 laps remaining, but maneuvered his way back inside the top 10 in the closing stages and ended the day with a seventh-place finish.
"We were tight in the final round of qualifying and the ToyotaCare/Project Pink Tundra remained tight throughout the race," Jones said. "Track position was crucial and it was hard to pass, but we were able to work our way to run inside the top-three for most of the race. Things got three-wide on that late restart and I got shoved up the track and made contact with the wall. We had some right-side damage and did all that we could do to salvage a top-10 finish there at the end. The good thing is we get right back at it next week -- I'm looking forward to getting a shot at my first win on a mile-and-half track at Las Vegas."
Jones posted the fastest lap in the first of two rounds of knockout qualifying Saturday morning, but his No. 51 Tundra got tight in the final found and left him in the seventh starting position for the race. Despite the fact that the 18-year-old driver reported that his ToyotaCare/Project Pink Toyota continued to be tight in the early stages of the he race, he was able to advance into the top five by lap five and was running third when green-flag stops began.
The Michigan native assumed the lead on lap 68 when the top-two trucks hit pit road and then surrendered the lead when he made his first scheduled stop on lap 70. The over-the-wall crew made four-tire stop and fuel stop with a wedge adjustment and returned their driver to the track scored in the third position. Jones remained in the third spot when the first caution of the race occurred on lap101.
Crew chief Eric Phillips summoned the No. 51 ToyotaCare/Project Pink Tundra down pit road for another four-tire and fuel stop with an air pressure adjustment. A quick stop by the crew allowed Jones to take the lap-106 restart from the second position. As a long green-flag run ensued, he continued to run second behind Cole Custer and on lap 140 found himself over two seconds behind the leader. Over the next five laps the leaders encountered lap traffic and KBM's young driver closed the gap to under a second.
A one-truck spin on lap 146 slowed the field for the second time. When Custer hit pit road, Phillips elected to keep Jones on track while every other lead-lap truck followed the leader and made a stop. The ToyotaCare/Project Pink Tundra lead the field to the green on lap 152, but quickly came under attack from trucks with fresher tires and ended up on the high side of a three-wide battle. After brushing the wall, the team had fallen back to the seventh position when another caution occurred on lap 156.
Jones brought his bruised Tundra to the attention of the over-the-wall crew, who put on four fresh tires, cleared the fenders and returned their young driver to the track scored in the 11th position for the ensuing restart. Over the course of two more restarts, the 18-year-old was able to gain four positions and came home with his fourth top-10 finish across eight starts this season.
Custer became the youngest winner in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history with his victory, eclipsing the mark Jones set last year at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway. Jones' KBM teammate, Darrell Wallace Jr., finished 1.148 seconds behind him in the runner-up position. Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter and John Hunter Nemechek rounded out the top-five finishers.
The 16th race of the 2014 season featured five cautions for a total of 23 laps. There were five lead changes among three drivers, including Jones who led twice for seven laps. The No. 51 team fell one position to third in the Owner's point standings and is currently eight points behind the series leading No. 88 team.
Jones returns to the wheel of the No. 51 ToyotaCare/Project Pink Tundra when the Truck Series resumes action at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 27. Live coverage of the Rhino Linings 350 will air on Fox Sports 1 beginning with the Truck Series Setup Show at 10 p.m. ET.
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