Date: Feb. 28, 2015
Event: Hyundai Construction Equipment 200 (Race 2 of 23)
Series: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Location: Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway (1.54-mile D-shaped oval)
Start/Finish: 2nd / 7th (Running, completed 130 of 130 laps)
Winner: Matt Crafton of ThorSport Racing (Toyota)
In the early stages of the Hyundai Construction Equipment 200 at Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway, it appeared that the battle for the trophy would come down to Rookie of the Year candidate Erik Jones and two-time reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton.
Jones led 37 of the first 50 laps, but dug himself in a hole when he slid through his pit box under caution on lap 52. The crew was forced to push him back inside the box before administering service and he returned to the track scored in the 10th position for the ensuing restart.
After maneuvering his way back inside the top five, crew chief Rudy Fugle summoned his driver to pit road for a green-flag stop with 30 laps remaining. As Jones began to make the turn into his pit box, a truck that was several laps down was exiting its pit box at the same time and Jones was forced to take evasive action to avoid contact. Once again the No. 4 Tundra wasn't able to get stopped inside the box and the team lost costly time getting pushed back into a legal position.
Jones returned to the track scored in the eighth spot and was only able to advance one position in the closing laps as the race proceeded caution free to the finish. It was Jones second top-10 finish in as many starts this season and his ninth consecutive dating back to August of last season. For his efforts, the 18-year-old was named the Sunoco Rookie of the Race.
"It seems like it was just not meant to be -- we just didn't have things go our way today," said Jones, who also experienced a pit road infraction for having pit crew members over the wall too soon during his 13th-place finish in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race earlier in the day. "We had a fast Tundra -- one that I felt like definitely could have won the race. Just didn't execute well and didn't put ourselves in the right position. Unfortunately, we weren't there. We had a great Tundra though -- nothing to be ashamed of. We just weren't in the right places at the right time."
"First time was on me -- I slipped through my pit box, but we raced back and made up from that," Jones explained the pit road misfortunes. "Then the second time, I don't know what the 63 (Garrett Smithley) was doing. He wasn't paying attention, nor was his crew chief. Just pulled out in front of us and didn't let us get in our box under a green-flag stop, which really set us back. I feel like we could have been up in second at that point if we would have had a good stop and really got into our box well. That was pretty unfortunate, but definitely doesn't take away from how fast our Tundra was today."
Crafton picked up his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory of the season, the sixth of his career. Ty Dillon finished 8.752 seconds behind Crafton in the runner-up position. Ben Kennedy came home third, Jones' KBM teammate Daniel Suarez picked up a career-best fourth-place finish in just his third series start and Tyler Reddick rounded out the top-five finishers. Justin Boston in KBM's No. 54 Tundra came home in the 16th position.
The second race of the 2015 season featured three cautions for a total of 13 laps. There were six lead changes among five drivers, including Jones who led twice for 37 laps. With two of the 23 races on the 2015 schedule complete, Jones ranks third in the championship standings - seven points behind Reddick and five behind Crafton.
Jones will be back behind the wheel of the No. 4 Tundra when the Truck Series resumes action on March 28 for the Kroger 250 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Live coverage of the 250-lap event begins with the NCWTS Setup Show at 2 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.