CLICK: Full race results from Iowa Speedway
Kyle Bush Motorsport's Erik Jones found his way back to victory lane for the second time in his nine-race NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career after leading for 131 of the 200 laps of the American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway on Friday night.
It was the sort of performance his team owner Kyle Busch - for whom Jones was subbing this week while the boss is competing in Cup and Nationwide events in New Hampshire - would be proud. It keeps the #51 truck 38 points clear of the ThorSport Racing #88 driven by Matt Crafton, who crossed the line in third place behind Jones and Ryan Blaney this week to move into the lead in the drivers standings.
It had been Jones' KBM team mate Darrell Wallace Jr who had earlier clinched pole position for the start of the race with a lap of 22.946s (137.279mph) at the 7/8th of a mile short oval, edging Jones to the top spot by 0.015s to claim his second pole of the season. Wallace held the lead for the first stint which extended to lap 39 at which point Dustin Hapka spun out in turn 4 to bring out the first caution, allowing the field to pit under yellow.
The #51 crew weaved their usual magic to put Jones out ahead of Wallace, Crafton and Blaney for the restart and Jones took best advantage of the moment to lead for the next 60 laps, which included two further caution periods - for Spencer Gallagher spinning in turn 2 on lap 55, and then for a tit-for-tat spat between Timothy Peters and Ron Hornday that culminated in Peters putting Hornaday into the wall on the frontstretch on lap 62. It was Peters who came off worst, ending up 71 laps down after a lengthy stay in the garage for repairs.
The same four drivers - Jones, Wallace, Blaney and Crafton - were still out in front after the restart, with Joey Coulter managing to move up into fifth place behind them. Jones started to ease away from the pack, but Blaney was able to respond and pick up the pace, moving past Wallace and starting to eat into Jones' lead as the race passed the midway point. Moments later Jones got held up by traffic and Blaney was able to find a way past for the first time of the night, and Blaney's lead was soon up to two seconds by the time the fourth caution came out for Eric Caudell spinning after contact with Bryan Silas on lap 125.
The #51 crew again performed above and beyond to put Jones back out ahead of Blaney again with Crafton, German Quiroga and Coulter making up the rest of the top five; Wallace lost out badly having just made a green flag pit stop moments before the caution which left him two laps down. Jones had his hands full at the restart when Blaney did his level best to get by, but once the #51 got out in front it would lead all but one of the remaining 68 laps of the race. Blaney did manage to get the nose of the #29 in front at the line on lap 184 as Jones once again hit traffic, but this time Blaney wasn't quite able to seal the deal and it proved to be his last hurrah, Jones' winning margin soon after having been extended to nearly two thirds of a second over Blaney, Crafton, Coulter and Quiroga. Wallace recovered to 13th place by the finish.
"That was awesome," said Jones as he celebrated in victory lane. "We definitely drove it hard and there was nothing left in that thing at the end. Great race there with Ryan, great guy to race against; he raced me hard and clean, and we showed a lot of respect to each other."
Blaney admitted that the final round of pit stops had likely been crucial: "It's hard to tell now but if we came off with the lead, it may have played differently," he shrugged. "But he [Jones] was good on the short run and was able to get out there. We made a change and it sort of helped that, but I kept getting tight when I got closer to him. We're making strides but just came up a little short."
Jones' win makes it three in a row for KBM after Wallace's victory at Gateway and Kyle Busch's two weeks ago in Kentucky. Overall it's the team's seventh win of the 2014 race, contributing to an impressive run for Toyota who have powered the winners of the last 11 consecutive Truck Series races.
However there is a potential blot on the otherwise successful landscape for the #51 team, after the winning truck was found to be too low in the rear in post-race technical inspection. While the win will still stand, possible points penalties, fines and probations will be determined early next week by NASCAR officials in their usual post-race weekend review.
Full race results from Iowa Speedway