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NASCAR: Jones extends Trucks lead with Texas win

Erik Jones scored an important and dominating victory at Texas on Friday night, strengthening his bid to dethrone Matt Crafton as Truck Series champion.
Early on in Friday night's race at Texas Motor Speedway it looked like it might turn out to be Matt Crafton's night.

The ThorSport Racing driver took pole and an early grip on the race, but he found himself unable to shake his main title rival Erik Jones who was always close behind threatening to oust him. Shortly after the only restart of the race, Jones finally managed to do exactly that - and Crafton had nothing left with which to respond.

"Great team, great truck," said Jones, racing on Friday for Kyle Busch Motorsport and for the rest of the weekend with Joe Gibbs Racing in both the Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series events. "I just love racing here at Texas and when the team can prepare trucks like they do at KBM it just makes it so much fun.

"Getting the win here, that's a nice boost for everybody, not just myself but everybody at KBM," he added after clinching his third win of the season and his seventh in 38 starts. "Hopefully we can keep this up the rest of the way and get that championship."

CLICK: Full NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race results from Texas Motor Speedway.

Not only was it an impressive and dominating victory for Jones, who led for 117 of the 147 laps under the floodlights at Texas - it could also prove crucial to the outcome of this year's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.

"To get our Toyota Tundra back in the championship hunt, it's pretty awesome," said Jones, who extends his lead at the top of the standings to 17 points over reigning champion Matt Crafton, with just two races remaining in 2015. "We went through a lot of ups and downs, really, over the last couple of months.

"We needed this to get back on track. We've struggled a little bit the last month, month and a half and worked hard to get back to this point," he continued. "To go out there and win one the way we did, and lead as many laps as we did, that's a really nice statement for us.

"Hopefully, we can go to Phoenix and do the same kind of thing we've done the last two years. It's nice to have that points lead back up closer to the 20 range than the 10 range, but we still have two more weeks, and we have to hold onto it, be strong and close this deal out.

It had been Crafton who had started on pole for the tenth time in 359 starts and the third time in 2015, after posting a lap of 29.769s (181.397mph) in the final round of qualifying at the 1.5-mile track which put the ThorSport #88 on top by 0.073s from GMS Racing's Spencer Gallagher.

When the green flag dropped, Crafton initially made good his escape at the front leaving Erik Jones and NTS Motorsports' Daniel Hemric vying over second place ahead of Jones' KBM team mate Daniel Suarez. Jones was soon able to deal with Hemric and take off after Crafton, successfully challenging for the top spot on lap 13 and then able to pull out almost two seconds ahead of Crafton, Suarez and the rest of the field before his first stop of the night on lap 48, but a minor hiccup getting the jack under the left hand side dropped the #4 back down to second place almost six seconds behind Crafton.

The gap was wiped out by the first and indeed only caution of the evening on lap 54, which was for debris in turn 4. At the restart, Crafton was initially able to retain the lead from Jones while Ryan Blaney (Brad Keselowski Racing) and Brandon Jones (GMS Racing) scrapped over third place ahead of Suarez; however, Erik Jones soon closed up on the back of Crafton and on lap 64 he was able to make a successful move to the front.

He would stay there for the rest of the race, with the singular exception of lap 99 during a round of green flag pit stops. At one hour, 23 minutes and 48 seconds the race was the shortest ever Truck event at Texas by almost two minutes, and the single caution was a new track-low record for the series (the previous best having been two cautions in the 2012 spring event.)

The uninterrupted run under green meant that Jones had all the time in the world to build up a comfort margin at the front as the night wore on. When the chequered flag came out, his team mate Daniel Suarez was almost three seconds behind Jones at the finish line - and Ryan Blaney was more then ten seconds even further back down the road, emphasising the impressive overall team effort by KBM on the night.

"I can't thank this team enough for giving me a truck like this," Suarez said. "We were really fast but Erik was so good. Congratulations to him but I'm proud of the way we ran tonight."

Coming fourth means that Crafton loses seven points on Jones in the title fight. While by no means out of contention for what would be a hat-trick of back-to-back Truck titles, this was certainly not the sort of night at the office that the current champion was looking for.

"There's still two races to go,” insisted Crafton. "We'll go to Phoenix next week and see if we can do a little bit better."

Brad Keselowski's Tyler Reddick is third in the standings and finished the race just behind Crafton in fifth place on Friday night. Timothy Peters, Brandon Jones, Christopher Bell, Ben Kennedy and Cameron Hayley rounded out the rest of the top ten at Texas.

Next week sees the penultimate race of the season, the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway, with everything very much to play for in title terms for Jones, Crafton and Reddick in what's looking like coming down to a thrilling knife-edge finish to the year.

Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and updated Camping World Truck Series championship standings.

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Related Pictures

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Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Damp Rid/Menards Toyota, leads the field past the green flag to start the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 350 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 6, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR)
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