DES MOINES, Iowa – Erik Jones has discovered that driving the No. 51 truck isn’t nearly as easy as Kyle Busch makes it look.
Last weekend, Jones finally pushed through the adversity that had dogged him all season with a run that showed why Busch and others are so high on his potential.
Jones led 131 of the 200 laps in a NASCAR trucks race at Iowa Speedway last Friday and cruised to his first victory of 2014 and the sixth for Busch’s No. 51 team.
The win came at a perfect time for the 18-year-old Jones, who will make his NASCAR Nationwide debut this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.
“It was definitely a great win in a lot of ways for everybody over here at (Kyle Busch Motorsports) and for myself just to get some momentum going. Hopefully we can carry it into this next weekend and keep going on the Nationwide side of things,” Jones said.
Busch has set a nearly impossible standard for Jones to match by winning all five of his trucks starts in 2014.
Jones is still learning how to drive – and deal with the bad breaks that are inherent to motorsports.
Jones emerged as something of a stock car wunderkind in 2012, becoming the first 15-year-old to run an ARCA race. His early success caught the eye of Busch, who gave him five starts in the No. 51 last year, and Jones rewarded Busch’s faith in him with a victory in Phoenix that made Jones the youngest winner in series history.
Busch’s support has been crucial so far for Jones, who unlike many of NASCAR’s young stars is a first-generation racer.
“Kyle has been a big influence on me and pointing me in the right direction and helping me out. I think he’s been the biggest person in my career,” Jones said.
Jones never finished outside the top 10 in 2013.
Until Iowa, Jones hadn’t finished inside the top 10 this season.
Jones was fifth at the start of a green-white-checkered finish at Martinsville when Joey Coulter sent him into the wall. Jones then held a lead at Gateway in Illinois with less than 10 laps left when he got hit from behind and turned around.
But in Iowa, Jones was able to dictate the race from the front, and he rode through clean air while holding off Ryan Blaney. Jones was later docked 10 points when his truck failed a post-race inspection for height, but that did little to dull the sensation of a breakout win for 2014.
“We did have some trouble at the beginning of the year, really none of our own doing, but I was happy that we could finally really put it all together,” Jones said.
Saturday’s race in Chicago will be the first of run three Nationwide events in Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 car this season for Jones.
Jones isn’t expected to do much more than gain experience in NASCAR’s second-tier circuit this season, especially since his time in a Nationwide car has been limited to a single test in Memphis.
But a promising showing could lead to more Nationwide opportunities in 2015.
“The main thing is for me, and we’ve talked about it, is just making laps honestly at this point. It’s a really big step for me getting into a Nationwide car,” Jones said.
“At first I’m just going to be looking to make laps and get to the end of the race and hopefully running up in the top 10.”