June 5, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Swartz Creek's Erik Jones graduating to the big track in NASCAR Truck series

Erik Jones earned his high school diploma by taking online courses while pursuing his racing career. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images)

Erik Jones won’t miss his graduation, after all.

Jones, who turned 18 last week, will be absent from his school’s graduation ceremony at Swartz Creek High Friday, but he will get his diploma.

Jones will have a special graduation ceremony just before driver introductions Friday at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Camping World Truck series race, which will be televised on Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m.

Jones will be wear his cap and gown and receive his diploma from track president Eddie Gossage, who also will be in graduation attire. After all, Jones will graduate to racing on the big 1.5-mile track for the first time in his young career.

“I couldn’t have my graduation at a better place since the race track is my favorite place to be,” Jones said Thursday afternoon before taking the track for practice in his No. 51 Toyota Tundra. “I’ll be getting my diploma in my cap and gown, then compete in my first race on a 1.5-mile track. It’s going to be a great night.”

Jones has taken online classes the last three years to earn his diploma from Swartz Creek while pursuing his racing career.

Jones became the youngest driver to win a NASCAR event when he took the truck race on the one-mile track at Phoenix last November. He was 17 years, 5 months and 8 days.

It helps when you’re driving a truck owned by Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch. Jones got Busch’s attention a couple of years back when he beat him in the Snowball Derby, a late model race in Florida in December 2012.

“We ended up beating him that day and that led to the great opportunity I have, driving for him,” said Jones of Busch. “He’s been a great mentor, having the experience and the knowledge of all these tracks.”

Jones started racing at age 7, moved up to quarter-midgets, then late models at 13 and ARCA in 2010. He would love to be a Sprint Cup star one day, but for now he is just enjoying the journey.

Jones competed in five truck events last year with 12 on his plate this season. He hopes to run for the series championship next year. By turning 18, he is now eligible to compete on all NASCAR-affiliated tracks.

“I can’t wait to get on the track and experience it, learning what the differences are since I’m sure it will be a lot different than short tracks,” said Jones, whose lone truck race this year was at Martinsville, where he crashed after advancing as high as fifth. "I’ll be running at 180 miles-per-hour. I was at 120 to 130 on short tracks. I can’t wait to get going.”