Byron's Erik Jones breaks through with historic weekend
Des Moines, Iowa — All year long, Erik Jones was the kid who couldn't finish a NASCAR Trucks race.
The 19-year-old Jones of Byron, Mich., shed that label with a brilliant run at Iowa Speedway and then made history 24 hours later by becoming the first driver to sweep Camping World Trucks and Xfinity races on different tracks in the same weekend.
Jones drove the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 4 truck to victory on Iowa's 0.875-mile short track on Friday. He then won at Chicagoland's 1.5-mile tri-oval on Saturday for Joe Gibbs Racing.
"It's still really far-fetched when you think about it. It's pretty cool to be able to go and grab two wins in a weekend," Jones said. "It was just an awesome weekend overall, and I'm really proud of everybody that we were able to go and get them."
Last weekend's performance helped Jones cement his status as one of an increasingly large group of young stars in NASCAR. It also helped turn around a Trucks season in Jones had done everything but win.
Jones had four top-3 finishes in the first six races of the year, including seconds at Daytona and Charlotte. But even though Jones dominated every statistic imaginable, the No. 4 team just couldn't find a way to lead the final lap. And despite winning the pole at both Texas and Gateway, Jones stumbled to 15th and 23rd-place finishes, respectively.
It was a rare dose of humility for Jones, who had breezed through every series he had raced in up to that point.
"Having what I felt was the best truck week in and out and just never being able to really close the deal (was frustrating). We'd be out front the majority of the race and it just seemed like when it would come down to the last 20 laps, 50 laps, we'd find a way to kind of take ourselves out of contention," Jones said. "It made it tough on me, and personally as a driver. I just had to go back and figure out how to handle that."
Jones said the race in Iowa felt like the end of a much-needed lesson in adversity.
Jones again had the best truck and cruised to the pole. But the No. 4 team was finally able to avoid setbacks, and Jones pounded the field on nearly every restart to ensure a relatively easy win.
The win at Iowa moved Jones up to third in the standings, 14 points behind Tyler Reddick and 26 behind Matt Crafton. Jones ranks first in average start (2.3), percentage of quality passes (93.1), laps led (592) and driver rating (127.4).
"I don't think we did everything different. It was just about everything finally working out for us," Jones said.
Jones signed up to compete for the Trucks title rather than the Xfinity Series because he wasn't expected to run a full season in NASCAR's second-tier circuit.
But Jones filled in for Kyle Busch after Busch broke his leg and made the most of his opportunity, with a pair of wins and seven top-5s in 14 races.
Jones is set to run nearly a complete schedule in Xfinity while also competing for the Trucks championship — which he's in a strong position to win after his victory in Iowa.
"As a young driver coming up through the ranks, you need to make some kind of impression on the sport and on the world," Jones said. "My dad always used to talk about it growing up. 'Hey man. What it comes down to at the end of the day is winning races.'"