MOORESVILLE, N.C. (June 3, 2014) - Many high school seniors will be walking across a stage this week to receive their diploma in recognition of years of hard work. For Erik Jones, his stage will be in front of a national television audience on the frontstretch of Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth before Friday night's WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event.
After finishing his freshman year at Byron High Scholl in Byron, Mich., Jones and his family decided the best route to being a successful student and continuing to pursue a career as a race car driver was to complete his studies online through the Swartz Creek Global Learning Hub in nearby Swartz Creek, Mich. Three years later, he has completed his studies and earned the right to walk the stage with the rest of the Swartz Creek students Friday night. The only problem is after turning 18 last week, he is now eligible to run NASCAR's mile-and-a-half and larger tracks and the talented youngster will be behind the wheel of the No. 51 Hiring Our Heroes/ToyotaCare Tundra for Friday night's 167-lap event.
Upon hearing that Jones was going to miss his graduation, the staff at Texas Motor Speedway decided to bring the ceremony to him. The racing prodigy will walk across the stage in his cap and gown when his name is called during driver introductions and he will be presented his diploma by track president Eddie Gossage. Once across the stage, the fun and games will end and Jones will be faced with one of his biggest challenges. The Michigan native will be competing in his first event on a mile-and-a-half track in one of NASCAR's top three divisions.
Just as he has done each step along the way of his career, the racing prodigy expects to accept the challenge and be successful. That's because Jones isn't just any 18-year-old driver making his first NASCAR start on a superspeedway, he is one of NASCAR's most promising young stars. In his first partial campaign in the Truck Series last season, he finished inside the top 10 in each of his five starts, capped off by a dominant performance at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale where he became the youngest winner in series history at 17 years, five months and nine days. In addition to his Truck Series triumph, he has an ARCA Racing Series victory at Berlin (Mich.) Raceway on his resume and in the Late Model ranks has already proven capable of winning some of the biggest events, having collected two Snowball Derby wins and a Winchester 400 title.
Jones will have a graduation day that is two-fold, graduating from high school and to the superspeedways of NASCAR all on one Texas-sized stage. The No. 51 team has posted three consecutive victories, four total this season and have won six of the last seven races dating back to Jones win at Phoenix last year, so they know a thing or two about celebrations. When the race is over on Friday night, they hope to be hosting a graduation party for their driver in victory lane.
Erik Jones, Driver of the No. 51 NCWTS Hiring Our Heroes/ToyotaCare Tundra:
Are you looking forward to your first race on a mile-and-a-half track?
"Racing on my first mile-and-a-half track is something I have been looking forward too for a long time now. It was great that NASCAR opened up the age to 16 for the Truck Series on short tracks, but still the main goal is to get on these big tracks. That's where the bulk of the schedule is, so I think it's something that every driver looks forward to. Kyle and this No. 51 team have had a lot of success on the mile-and-a-half tracks already this year, so I hope to go out and keep that streak alive. As a racer I always put my expectations high and I feel very confident about the truck going into Texas. I think we have a shot to run in the top five, and contend for the win."
How has your team prepared you for what to expect this week at Texas Motor Speedway?
"I sat down with Kyle (Busch), Eric Phillips (crew chief), and Rudy Fugle (engineer) last week to talk about everything that comes with prepping for a mile-and-a-half track and all the details of Texas Motor Speedway. They all briefed me on what to expect, and how to handle it all. I really think that's a big help as a driver, especially going to somewhere new. Kyle is always a big help every weekend when I go to a racetrack in the truck."
Eric Phillips, Crew Chief of the No. 51 NCWTS Hiring Our Heroes/ToyotaCare Tundra:
What will be Erik's biggest challenge in his first race on a mile-and-a-half track?
"The biggest thing with not having raced on a mile-and-a-half track before will be figuring out what he needs from the truck. Typically, what you need in practice and what you need in the race are two different things and these young kids seem to end up having the truck too free once the race starts. So, we are going to have to work with him on trying to make sure that our truck isn't sideways at the start of the race. I think you've seen a lot of it this year and there have been a lot of wrecks. Other than that, once the race starts he doesn't need to force things and put himself in a bad position. We've seen a lot of tore up trucks the last three races, so we don't need to have that happen."
Do your expectations change having Erik in the truck versus Kyle?
"The expectations we have as a team are the same each week no matter who is driving the truck -- we want to go out and be the fastest in practice, sit on the pole and win the race. Erik is more than capable of getting the job done and we know we are providing him with a fast Tundra. Just as we have done the first five races, we are going this week with one goal in mind and that is to get another win."
Erik Jones' No. 51 ToyotaCare Tundra:
KBM-021: The No. 51 ToyotaCare team will unload chassis KBM-021 for Friday night's WinStar World Casino & Resort 400. The Tundra has won three of its four starts, picking up victories at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. in September and Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway last year and most recently a dominant win with Kyle Busch behind the wheel at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in May.
Erik Jones 2014:
- Had a top-five run going in the Kroger 250 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway before getting spun late in the race and ending the day with a disappointing 18th-place finish (3/30/14)
Erik Jones 2013:
- At 17 years, five months and nine days old, became the youngest winner in the history of the NCWTS with his victory in the November event at Phoenix International Raceway (11/8/13)
- Became the first 16-year-old to compete in a NCWTS race since KBM owner-driver Kyle Busch in October of 2001, went on to finish ninth in his debut at Martinsville Speedway (4/6/13) and recorded top-10 finishes in all five of his series starts
- Collected first ARCA Racing Series victory at Berlin Raceway (8/10/13) and registered two top-five and three top-10 finishes across four starts
- Became just the third driver in the 46-year-history of the prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race at Five Flags Speedway to register back-to-back victories (12/8/13)
- With a victory in the Winchester 400 Super Late Model race at Winchester Speedway, became the sixth driver in history to post victories in both that race and the Snowball Derby (10/13/13)
Erik Jones 2012:
- Won the prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., outdueling KBM owner-driver Kyle Busch in the closing laps to secure the victory (2/2/12)
- Became the first 15-year-old driver ever to compete in the ARCA Racing Series, making his debut at the Mobile ARCA 200 at Mobile (Ala.) International Speedway (3/10/12)
- Posted four top-five and five top-10 finishes while leading a total of 103 laps across 10 ARCA starts
Kyle Busch Motorsports' No. 51 Tundra:
- Kyle Busch has won all four of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts this season, capturing victories at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and Dover (Del.) International Speedway
- Erik Jones had a top-five run going in the Kroger 250 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway before getting spun late in the race and ending the day with a disappointing 18th-place finish (3/30/14)
- In 2013, produced a series-leading six wins (Kyle Busch -5, Erik Jones- 1), 505 laps led and 11 top-five finishes en route to theNASCAR Camping World Truck Series Owner's Championship
- In 2013, Kyle Busch registered five wins, eight top-five and nine top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 7.0 across 11 starts
- At the age of 17 years, five months and nine days, Erik Jones became the youngest winner in NCWTS history with his win in the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway (11/8/13)
- In five starts in 2013, Jones led 84 laps en route to two top-five and five top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 6.0
KBM NCWTS Program
- Has won seven of the last nine NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races dating back to Darrell Wallace Jr.'s victory at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last October
- Has collected two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Owner's Championships, 29 Truck Series victories and 14 poles across 167 starts since originating in 2010
- Six different drivers have won a race for KBM, led by owner-driver Kyle Busch with 23. Denny Hamlin has two victories for his teammates' Truck Series operation, while Erik Jones, Kasey Kahne, Brian Scott and Darrell Wallace Jr. have all collected one win
KBM NCWTS @ Texas
KBM Truck Series drivers have registered one win (Kyle Busch, 2010), three top-five and seven top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 14.6 across 13 starts at Texas Motor Speedway.
The Phillips File:
Eric Phillips, the winningest crew chief in Truck Series history, picked up his 31st career series victory with Kyle Busch in the Lucas Oil 200 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway last week. The Illinois native has visited victory lane with eight different Truck Series drivers and 20 different tracks in his 10 seasons atop the pit box. He led KBM to a Truck Series Owner's Championship and series-leading eight wins in its inaugural campaign in 2010 and overall in four seasons at KBM has guided the team to 21 wins with four different drivers.
Phillips' Truck Series drivers have registered two wins (Kyle Busch, 2010 and Clint Bowyer 2006), one pole (Clint Bowyer, 2006), five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 11.9 across 17 starts at Texas Motor Speedway.