TMS Media Relations | Jun 03, 2014
FORT WORTH, Texas (June 3, 2014) - For many, graduating high school is a memorable experience spent in their hometown celebrating with friends and family. For NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie Erik Jones, “memorable” may be an understatement.
His family will be there, but his “friends” will all be in firesuits and his “celebration” will be spent going 180 miles around Texas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval during Friday evening’s WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.
Jones, just seven days after his 18th birthday, is now eligible to race on his first 1.5-mile oval per approval from NASCAR. It just so happens that the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 falls on the same day as the high school senior’s graduation. Dedicated to his dream, Jones chose to forego the opportunity to walk across the stage with his fellow classmates and compete in one of NASCAR’s top-tier series in the No. 51 Hiring Our Heroes/ToyotaCare Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Jones, however, will get the best of both worlds come Friday evening and he will indeed walk the stage and receive his diploma as Texas Motor Speedway will play host to his graduation ceremony.
At 7:35 p.m. CT Friday, just minutes before the drivers are introduced for the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400, Jones will walk across the pre-race stage in his cap and gown from Swartz Creek (Mich.) Community Schools to receive his high school diploma from Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage as “Pomp and Circumstance” plays on the PA system. Joined alongside Gossage will be Jones’ parents Dave and Carol as well as his sister Lindsey.
Gossage, donned in traditional faculty attire with cap and gown as well as a hood that properly represents his BA in Mass Communications from Middle Tennessee State University, also will present Jones with an additional diploma signifying his graduation to 1.5-mile tracks in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
“I really only dreamed about running a NASCAR race, so I definitely couldn’t imagine getting a high school diploma at one,” Jones said. “I think it fits pretty well. The balance of my life since I was about seven (years old) has been those two things. It’ll make for a great story someday and something that will make the torture of getting through high school more meaningful.
“Talking with friends the other day, they were wondering if I was going to be walking with my class. After I told them what was going to happen, they thought it was pretty awesome. I really can’t think of a better way to get a diploma than at a race track, ready to go racing.”
Jones did not grow up in a Southeast racing hotbed but rather tiny Byron, Mich., a village in Burns Township with a population of 567 that is 24 miles southwest of Flint. In December of 2012, the then-16-year-old Jones caught the eye of NASCAR superstar Kyle Busch when Jones beat him at the prestigious Snowball Derby late-model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. Afterward, Jones’ dream of competing in NASCAR became a reality when Busch signed him to a contract with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Despite his young age and thanks to a rule that NASCAR put in place, Jones was allowed to start racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on tracks 1.1 miles and shorter in 2013. He immediately showed he belonged as he had had top-10 finishes in his first four races and then won what would be his fifth and final race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway. At 17 years, 5 months and 9 days old, Jones became the youngest driver in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history to win a race.
Now 18 years old, Jones will get his first crack at a 1.5-mile speedway during the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400. For Jones, there’s no better mentor than his NCWTS team owner Kyle Busch heading to Texas Motor Speedway. Busch leads all drivers with nine wins across all three national NASCAR series, including two in the Camping World Truck Series.
“I sat down with Kyle (Busch), Eric Phillips (crew chief) and Rudy Fugle (engineer) last week to talk about everything that comes with prepping for a mile-and-a-half track and every detail of Texas Motor Speedway,” Jones said. “They all briefed me on what to expect and how to handle it all. I really think that’s a big help as a driver, especially going to somewhere new. Kyle is always a big help every weekend when I go to a race track in the truck.
“It was great that NASCAR opened up the age to 16 for the truck series on short tracks, but still the main goal is to get on those big tracks. That’s where the bulk of the schedule is so I think that’s something that every driver looks forward to. Texas Motor Speedway is also a place that Kyle and his KBM team have had a lot of success so I hope to go out there and keep that streak alive.”
If history has anything to say about it, Jones has a good chance at notching his second career win as Texas Motor Speedway has been kind to first-timers over the last year. Jeb Burton got his first career NASCAR win in his first attempt at Texas Motor Speedway at the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 in June, 2013. This past April, Chase Elliott followed suit with his first career win in his first attempt at Texas in the NASCAR Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.
The WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 will be just Jones’ second start of the season, with his lone one coming March 29 at the .526-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. He started fourth and finished 18th.
“As a racer, I always put my expectations high,” Jones said. “The Toyota Care Tundra has been great on every track this year so I’m really going to look to go out and try to keep the streak alive for them. I feel very confident about the truck going into Texas and I think we have a shot to run up in the top five and contend for the win.”
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series opens at Texas Motor Speedway on Thursday with practice from 5-6 p.m. and final practice from 6:30-8 p.m. The NTT DATA Qualifying Day for the NCWTS will be Friday beginning at 4:10 p.m. followed by the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 (167 laps/250.5 miles) at 8 p.m. The race will be broadcast live on FOX Sports 1 as well as on radio with MRN (national), Sirius XM NASCAR Radio Ch. 90 (national) and KRLD – FM 105.3 The Fan (local).
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