Erik Jones has become a poster child of sorts – remember, he’s only 18 – for young NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers who are proven winners in good equipment.
The Byron, Mich., native enters the new season having made just 17 CWTS starts. He’s won an incredible four times despite being the same age as a high school senior. Being with one of the series’ fastest teams in Kyle Busch Motorsports doesn’t hurt matters, but Jones still has to take care of business on the track.
It hasn’t been much of an uphill battle so far.
Jones closed out the 2014 season with a bang. He didn’t finish worse than seventh in his final seven starts, two of which were wins – at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
Jones leaned on then-teammate Darrell Wallace Jr. for advice on how to handle tracks where he’d never raced. While Jones said the two have contrasting driving styles, the lessons he learned from Wallace and team owner Busch went a long way toward his development as arguably the series’ hottest prospect.
One race in particular turned things around last year for Jones. After finishes of 18th (at Martinsville), 11th (Texas) and 23rd (Gateway) to start his season, Jones headed to Iowa Speedway last July looking for a solid result.
He got much more than that. Jones qualified second, led a race-high 131 laps and held off Ryan Blaney to score his second career victory.
“To finally get everything to work out and gel together how it should at Iowa was a great feeling,” Jones said. “Getting things moving and getting that whole line of communication open with everybody was key.”
Jones won’t have to share a ride with anyone this year, so the stakes are higher.
He’ll pilot the No. 4 KBM Toyota Tundra in an effort to bring the Mooresville, N.C.-based team its first driver’s championship. He won’t be the team’s youthful upstart anymore, either.
Up-and-comers Matt Tifft, Justin Boston and Daniel Suarez are also slated to make starts in KBM equipment. It’ll be up to Jones and the rest of the team to get the new drivers up to speed.
Jones is up for the challenge. His ultimate goal is to win the title. Getting the first win of the season out of the way, which proved to be a challenge last year, figures to be a bit easier this time around.
“They always say, the first (win) in (every) series is hard to get out of the way,” Jones said, “But honestly, it’s the first one every year.”