NEWTON, Iowa — By Rob Gray, NASCAR Wire Service — NASCAR photo — No one’s ever questioned the talent Erik Jones possesses.
His luck? That’s another matter entirely.
But Friday at Iowa Speedway, both skill and good fortune finally co-existed for the 18-year-old Kyle Busch Motorsports driver, who powered to his second career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series triumph in the American Ethanol 200.
“Glad we could get out and command the race and bring it home,” said Jones, who led 131 laps and held off a spirited charge from Brad Keselowski Racing’s Ryan Blaney, who settled for second.
He brought it home in one piece, too.
Jones, who runs a 12-race schedule, was wrecked while leading late in the June 14 race at Gateway Motorsports Park outside of St. Louis.
He was running in the top five when another truck sent him spinning on a late restart in the March 30 race at Martinsville.
“You really want to try to make your mark every time you get in (the truck),” Jones said. “It’s a tough industry and when you get in and you get turned around or something like that, it’s just really a bummer and it kind of takes that week and you have to throw it away. When you only get so many opportunities, it makes it really hard as a young guy.”
Not that he’s complaining.
His turn at the wheel of the No. 51 Toyota put the truck into Victory Lane for the sixth time this season — and the first time when owner Kyle Busch wasn’t driving.
“It was definitely fun,” Jones said. “I had a lot of fun — two young guys battling hard there for the win. Pretty hungry.”
It’s the second time Blaney’s snared a runner-up finish at Iowa Speedway this season. He ran second to Sam Hornish Jr. in May’s Get to Know Newton 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
“We’re getting closer and closer to getting to Victory Lane,” said Blaney, who owns one win at Iowa, which came in 2012. “It’s just a matter of time.”
That description appeared apropos to Friday’s race at times, as well. Blaney, who excelled in long runs, could reel in Jones, but couldn’t stick a pass.
His best chance came with 16 laps remaining, but a side-by-side duel that went three-wide with the lapped truck ofJustin Lofton didn’t provide enough daylight.
“I knew that was my best opportunity to try to get by him,” said Blaney, who notched his fifth top-five finish of the season. “We got really close. It almost sucked me around. Luckily we didn’t wreck right there. It was tight racing, but a good race and hopefully good for the fans.”
Matt Crafton earned third, with Joey Coulter and German Quiroga Jr. completing the top five.
Crafton said lapped traffic often proved to be perilous, so he was pleased with his podium finish.
“My Lord, some of these guys would go from the bottom to the top and back to the bottom,” said Crafton, who assumed the series points lead by two over Blaney while former leader Johnny Sauter limped in with an 18th-place finish.
“It was absolutely insane, lapping some of them. I know they had their hands full, without a doubt.”
That’s not a problem for Jones, who battled his teammate Darrell Wallace Jr. for the lead early in the race before an ill-timed pit stop helped drop Wallace — the pole sitter — to 13th.
“He knows what he needs in a truck and he knows how to race,” said Eric Phillips, Jones’ crew chief. “He raced side by side with a lot of lapped cars to work through and he and Blaney raced hard all night. They didn’t beat on each other or take each other out. They just raced hard and that’s the sign of a true winner, or champion, in years to come.”