NASCAR & Auto Racing

Erik Jones becomes youngest NASCAR Truck Series champion

Erik Jones raises the trophy after winning the season title following the NASCAR Trucks auto race Friday, Nov. 20, 2015 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla.
Erik Jones raises the trophy after winning the season title following the NASCAR Trucks auto race Friday, Nov. 20, 2015 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla. AP

Erik Jones took the extremely cautious approach, and it paid off.

Matt Crafton took the less-cautious and more heavy-footed approach, and it also paid off.

Jones won the season championship for the Camping World Truck Series as he finished sixth Friday night, not pressing the issue or the gas pedal that heavily as he entered the race with a comfortable 19-point advantage and needing only to finish 15th or better to claim the title.

Driving a Toyota, he easily did just that to become, at age 19, the youngest Truck Series champion in NASCAR history.

Jones, after finishing, did a few smokin’ wheelies in the infield, jumped on top of his truck to celebrate and then hoisted the Truck Series trophy high with a smile on his face.

“There were times I didn’t think we could do this,” Jones said. “To close off the run like this, it’s special. This is a great way to repay these guys I work with.”

Like Jones, Crafton also was smiling after winning Friday’s race.

“I was having so much fun out there at the end, that they [his crew] wanted me to slow down,” Crafton said, “but I wanted to see how fast I could go. We were running fast.

“This win was awesome. All we had to do was worry about winning and nothing else. And I promise we’ll be stronger in 2016.”

The victory was Crafton’s sixth of the season but the first in his career to come at Homestead.

Crafton also undoubtedly had to look back a week and think of what could have been.

A week before Homestead, Crafton was basically eliminated from contention of winning the overall Truck title when he crashed with Jones at Phoenix.

After that late-race Phoenix entanglement, Jones recovered quickly enough to finish ninth, but Crafton had more extensive damage and placed 23rd and 32 points behind Jones heading into the Homestead finale.

“It was 100 percent my fault,” Crafton admitted of the Phoenix crash. “I made a mistake … mistakes happen … we’re all human.”

In Friday’s afternoon qualifying for the pole in the Ford EcoBoost 200, Crafton grabbed the top spot with a speed of 167.551 mph, and joining him in the first row was John Hunter Nemechek at 167.002.

Jones qualified fifth, going 166.857 mph, while his closest competitor for the Series title, Tyler Reddick, was one spot ahead of him in fourth at 166.888. However, Reddick had a 17-point deficit to overcome on Friday, a near-impossibility.

Reddick, who finished third in Friday’s race, ended up 15 points behind Jones in the Truck Series standings.

That did not particularly go over well with Reddick.

“Right now, I know how second place feels,” he said, “and I really don’t like it.”

Friday’s race started with Crafton holding the lead for the first 30 laps, before surrendering it to Nemechek. For the most part, Reddick was at the front with them, staying in the top five for the majority of the race.

Meanwhile, Jones was wisely avoiding any and all trouble and seemed to be comfortable hanging out in the seventh to 10th positions — for him, playing it safe means having never to say you’re sorry.

For the 2015 season, Jones finished with three wins, 11 top-fives, 20 top-10s and five poles.

“We raced conservatively [Friday night],” Jones admitted. “We didn’t want to put ourselves in a position we didn’t want to be in.

“I’m just really proud of everybody. I need some time for it all to sink in.”

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