Erik Jones and the No. 4 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles team overcame a speeding penalty just past the halfway mark of the American Ethanol e15 225 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. to bring home a sixth-place finish. The top-10 finish was the eighth consecutive for Jones and allowed the 19-year-old to open up a 10-point lead on Tyler Reddick in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship battle with just seven races remaining.
"It was just an interesting day to say the least," Jones said of his first career Truck Series start at Chicagoland. "Kind of went back and forth on setup stuff and ended up getting a speeding penalty there, obviously my fault and we went to the back. I fought back from that and ended up sixth today so that's a decent day for us. Our Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra was good, we just missed it a little bit. We just missed that piece that would have made us better -- just a little bit out of the race track all day and never could quite get it to where we wanted it to be. Need to keep running top-10, top-five and we'll be alright."
Jones made 41 laps in the lone practice session on Friday and turned in the eighth quickest time. The Michigan native was on the provisional pole with four trucks remaining in Friday afternoon's qualifying session when the skies opened up and cancelled the session. Per NASCAR rules, the field was set by practice speeds, but the rain continued and the start of the 150-lap race was moved to Saturday morning.
The No. 4 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra rolled off from the eight spot, but had gained two positions when the first caution of the race occurred on lap 14. Jones communicated to crew chief Rudy Fugle that his truck fired off "really loose," and when the race resumed fell back one position to seventh, where he was scored when the competition caution slowed the field for the second time on lap 31.
Jones came to pit road for four fresh tires, a trackbar adjustment and full tank of fuel and returned to the track scored in the sixth position for the lap-36 restart. As a long green-flag run ensued, the talented youngster was able to move forward two positions despite communicating that his Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra continued to be "extremely loose," but started to fall back again before the third and final caution of the race waved on lap 81.
Fugle summoned his young driver to pit road for four fresh tires, a full tank of fuel and a wedge adjustment. Jones was set to restart from the fourth position, but NASCAR determined that he was speeding entering the pits and sent him to the tail end of the longest line. A lengthy cleanup process caused the caution to span over 12 laps, so the No. 4 Tundra came down pit road twice to top off with fuel since they had to start at the rear of the field regardless.
Jones took the lap-95 restart from the 11th position and slowly but surely began to maneuver his way forward. With 25 laps remaining he was scored in the sixth position and relayed that the latest adjustments had improved the handling of his Tundra. As the race proceeded caution free to the finish, the No. 4 team came down pit road for a splash of fuel and a wedge adjustment with six laps remaining.
The Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra returned to the track scored in the eighth position as several trucks were trying to stretch it to the end on fuel. Two trucks were able to make it, but two others ran out of fuel, leaving Jones with a sixth-place finish when the field crossed the stripe.
John Hunter Nemechek made it the last 56 laps on a tank of fuel to collect his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory. Tyler Reddick finished 12.014 seconds behind Nemechek in the runner-up position. Timothy Peters finished third, Jones' teammate Daniel Suarez fourth and Johnny Sauter rounded out the top-five finishers. Matt Tifft finished ninth in KBM's No. 54 NASCAR '15 Victory Edition Tundra.
The 16th race of the 2015 season featured three cautions for a total of 23 laps. There were 11 lead changes among seven drivers.
With 16 of 23 races completed, Jones gained seven points in the Truck Series championship standings and now has a 10-point lead over Tyler Reddick.
Jones will be back behind the wheel of the No. 4 Tundra when the Truck Series resumes action Sept. 25 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Live coverage of the UNOH 175 begins with the NCWTS Setup Show at 12:30 p.m. ET