Date: April 14, 2013
Event: N.C. Education Lottery 200 (Race 3 of 22)
Series: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Location: Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway (1-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 36th/9th (Running, completed 205 of 205 laps)
Winner: Kyle Larson of Turner Scott Motorsports (Chevrolet)
For 16-year-old Erik Jones and his No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) team, there was nowhere to go but forward when the green flag dropped at the 2nd Annual N.C. Education Lottery 200 presented by Cheerwine at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway. Starting as the last truck in the field of 36 for his second career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start, Jones defied the odds at “The Rock” and for the second straight week ended the day with a ninth-place finish.
“Unfortunately in qualifying the splitter hit the racetrack and just shot the truck up towards the wall,” stated Jones after his 36th place qualifying run. “We had a really good lap going, and it was very unfortunate that happened. Starting last presents a unique challenge everywhere, but at Rockingham where tire management is so key, it is very hard to start from the back. You want to go pretty hard at first and make up as many spots as you can on new tires, but you also need to save something.”
When the green flag dropped Jones and his No. 51 Toyota Tundra team had one goal in mind, pass as many trucks as possible before the rough surface chewed away his tires. Knowing his truck was better suited for race conditions, the Michigan native went straight to work and found himself maneuvering from 36th to 22nd by lap 15.
Leader Kyle Larson was setting a blistering pace in the early stages of the race and during an early long green-flag run put Jones and a handful of others a lap down before the second caution finally fell on lap 64. Pitting for a full set of tires and fuel, the new goal, set by crew chief Rudy Fugle, was to fight as hard as he could for the Lucky Dog position. With four lapped cars ahead of him, the young gun ignored any handling issues and did what needed to be done to regain his lap before the caution flag waved for the third time on lap 94.
“Halfway through the race my only focus was on getting the lucky dog,” Jones proclaimed. “When we got our lap back, it was a fine line of not going too hard, but also getting ourselves some good track position for our last stop of the day.”
Pitting once more for a full tank of gas, an air pressure adjustment, and fresh rubber, Jones restarted the race 19th, but at the tail end of the longest line. Set with the task of passing the field once more, Jones never gave up and when the next caution came out found himself ahead of lapped traffic and sitting in the 17th position.
After a final pit stop for a set of scuffed tires, the last 50 laps were fully in the hand of the teenage rookie. One by one Jones picked away at the field and when the checkered flag waved he could let out a sigh of relief, because he managed to defy the odds and salvage a top-10 finish.
“We were happy with ninth considering how the day started,” Jones stated. “We had a fast Toyota Tundra all day, and made up a ton of track position. Two top-10 finishes to start off in the truck series is great for me with this No. 51 KBM team. I’m excited to go to Iowa, it’s a place that I have raced at before, and we also get to test there, so my goal is to break into the top five.”
Larson won the 2nd Annual N.C. Education Lottery 200 at Rockingham Speedway, his first NCWTS victory in just his fifth series start. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular Joey Logano, finished second, posting his first top-five finish in only his second series start. Brendan Gaughan, Johnny Sauter and Chase Elliott rounded out the top five. Jones’ KBM teammates Joey Coulter and Darrell Wallace, Jr. finished 15th and 27th, respectively.
There were seven caution periods for 33 laps and three different drivers led at least one lap, exchanging the lead four times.
After three races The No. 51 Tundra team ranks fourth in the Truck Series owner’s point standings, 22 points behind the series leading No. 98 team.
Jones will make his third of five NCWTS starts this season at Iowa Speedway in Newton on Saturday, July 13.
KBM owner Kyle Busch will be behind the wheel of the No. 51 ToyotaCare Tundra for the SFP 250 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City on Saturday, April 20. Live television coverage of the 167-lap event kicks off at 2 p.m. ET on SPEED.