Erik Jones wins NASCAR Truck Series title at Homestead
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Erik Jones stayed away from traffic and avoided trouble in the season finale.
It was a veteran move by a youngster - and yielded a championship celebration.
The 19-year-old Jones became the youngest champion in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history by finishing sixth at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday night. He also gave Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch his fourth championship as a team owner.
''It was just so, so special for everybody here to close off this run like this,'' Jones said. ''I've had a great three years with these guys. I can't think of a better way to repay these guys.''
Matt Crafton won the 200-mile race for his sixth victory of the year and 11th in 361 career starts. The 39-year-old Crafton won the last two series championship but was essentially eliminated once Jones and fellow teenager Tyler Reddick started the race.
Crafton, Jones and Reddick were the only drivers still in the running for the championship in Homestead. But Crafton needed lots of help to make it three in a row.
Jones, meanwhile, needed to finish 15th or better in the finale to wrap up the title. He had little trouble getting it done, spending much of the night running in the top 10.
''It's just special to everyone at Kyle Busch Motorsports,'' Busch said. ''It means so much more to have the opportunity to help these younger drivers. There's nothing better to have that feeling and build that program up from nothing.''
Austin Dillon previously held the record as the youngest series champion, winning the title in 2011 at age 21. Dillon moved up to the NASCAR's second-tier Xfinity Series the following year.
Jones is expected to run a full season for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series next season. Jones also made three Cup starts this year, filling in for Busch early in the year and subbing for suspended Matt Kenseth the last two weeks.
Busch and Jones first crossed paths in January 2012 at a super late model race in Cordele, Georgia. Jones blew by Busch early in the event, making a strong first impression.
Later that year, at the Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Jones raced door-to-door with Busch and ended up beating the NASCAR star to the finish line.
In 2013, after NASCAR lowered the minimum age requirement for short tracks, Kyle Busch Motorsports signed the then-16-year-old Jones to a five-race deal in the Truck Series. Jones finished in the top 10 in each of his first four starts and then became the youngest winner of a NASCAR national series event at Phoenix International Raceway.
Jones doubled his racing schedule in 2014 and again helped KBM win the owner's championship behind the wheel of the No. 51 Toyota. Busch and Jones responded by vowing to win both the driver's and owner's championships this season.
They got it done Friday.
''Just really impressed to see what kind of kid he is,'' Busch said. ''He didn't want to be there for two part-time seasons, but he was. I think he learned a tremendous amount in those seasons.''
John Hunter Nemechek finished second, a strong showing at the track where his uncle died in 1997. Three months before John Hunter Nemechek was born, John Nemechek died at age 27 from head injuries sustained in a crash at Homestead.
John Hunter Nemechek paid tribute to his late uncle and namesake by racing a No. 8 Chevrolet Silverado - his uncle's car number - in the finale.
Reddick was third, followed by Ben Kennedy and Timothy Peters.