Time after time so far this year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the Kyle Busch Motorsport #4 had been the class of the field only to be denied an all-access pass to victory lane by a late race twist by everything from a fuel strategy miscall, battery issues, electrical and tyre problems and simply by flat-out getting pipped to the line at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
But this weekend at Iowa Speedway, Erik Jones would not be denied and on Friday he completely dominated the day's proceedings on his way to an inexorable win in the American Ethanol 200.
CLICK: Full race results from the American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway.
"What a day, what a day," beamed Jones. "Sat on the pole, won the race. That's how you do it.
"We're back in the swing of things. I guess the last month was just stressful all around. Stressful on me as a person," admitted Jones, who also won this race 12 months ago and was returning this week as defending race champion. "Last year we really kind of came off the same beginning to the season to this point and went here and kind of turned everything around.
"I would say our luck or whatever you want to call it was worse this year at the beginning of the year than it was last year, but definitely a similar feel in getting back to victory lane here and getting things going in the right direction," added Jones as he celebrated after the race. "I kind of came to realize it doesn't come as easy as everybody thinks it does. I had a lot of success early on and definitely got into kind of a hard spot.
"We've had fast trucks," he pointed out. "Things just haven't been happening. Just kept fighting the good fight and waited for it to come around ... It took us a while to get here, but now that we're here I think we'll keep reeling a few off."
The 19-year-old had started the day by topping the sole practice session and then each of the three rounds of qualifying on the 7/8ths of a mile paved oval to claim his fifth pole in 26 starts and his third of 2015, coincidentally setting a new track record for the youngest pole winner at Iowa (at 19 years and 20 days, over a year younger than the previous record holder Austin Dillon who had been 20 years, 2 months and 14 days.)
Once the race got underway under the floodlights on Friday night, Jones would go on to lead for 112 of the 200 laps in three long stints starting with an unbroken run of 43 once the green flag dropped. A mix of pit top strategies then saw him drop back to ninth place, but the youngster showed calm maturity as he bided his time and patiently worked his way forward without getting too anxious, finally returning to the front again on lap 128 after a restart following a turn 2 spin for Cameron Hayley.
After that, Jones would be out of the top spot for just four laps, following a round of pit stops under a caution on lap 151 for Travis Kvapil crashing out. Once the race restarted he quickly got the lead back before a further caution for John Hunter Nemechek and Caleb Holman wrecking on the frontstraight, and he was then able to pull away at the next green flag and enjoy a trouble-free, no-surprises run to the chequered flag to pick up his fifth career victory in the Truck Series, his first victory and sixth top ten finish in 2015.
Jones' margin of victory was a formidable 5.860s over his near-namesake, GMS Racing's Brandon Jones, whose team mate Spencer Gallagher had also secured a career-high second last weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park. "I think we've had speed all year long, honestly," said Brandon Jones. "It's just starting to come around for us."
Brad Keselowski Racing's Tyler Reddick was third after just managing to fend off the unwanted attentions of ThorSports' Matt Crafton in the final stint. Fifth place went to USAC National Midget Champion Christopher Bell who only moved from racing on dirt to concrete for the last time last September. "I just had one expectation and goal and that was just to finish the race," Bell said after making his series début with Kyle Busch Motorsports. "I really didn't know what to expect, so to come out with a top five, I'm just thrilled about it."
In the points standings, Jones' win promotes him back to third place in the championship ahead of Johnny Sauter. However, he's still 26 points adrift of reigning champion Matt Crafton, with second place man Tyler Reddick unable to close the gap at all this week.
The Camping World Truck Series now takes three weeks off before returning to action for the UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway on July 9. Erik Jones himself has rather less time to kick back and enjoy his victory, as he jets off to Chicagoland Speedway to take part in Saturday night's Xfinity Series race.
See full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and latest Camping World Truck Series championship standings.
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