AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Matt Crafton took all the drama out of the Truck Series championship Friday night with a solid finish at Phoenix International Raceway.
He also left the hard racing to kids at the front of the pack.
Erik Jones became the youngest winner in series history, racing to his first win on NASCAR’s national level, at 17 years and 4 months. He broke the mark set in September by Chase Elliott, who was five months older when he won in September in Bowmanville, Ontario.
“It’s everything I want, just to be a winner in NASCAR,” Jones said. “I’m not sure what I’m doing next year, hopefully we know in the next few months, and hopefully this helps me.”
It was Jones’ fifth start for Kyle Busch Motorsports, and he got his shot in the Toyota when he caught Busch’s eye by beating him last December in the Snowball Derby.
“When you are driving Kyle Busch’s stuff, there’s a lot of pressure on you,” said third-place finisher Brendan Gaughan. “Kid looked like Kyle Busch tonight.”
The pressure is finally off Crafton, who finished fifth. With a lead of 46 points over Ty Dillon, Crafton needs only to start next Friday night in the finale at Homestead to win the championship.
“I can sleep a lot better, I can promise you that,” Crafton said. “The last month and a half, I haven’t slept worth a damn.”
Crafton thought he might have finished a little higher — and possibly wrapped up the title — if not for a brake problem.
“I could run about 15 laps and would lose like 90 percent of my brakes, and I would have to pump and pump, and as soon as I came off turn four, I would pump probably 10 times the brake pedal by the time I’d get into (turn) one,” he said. “I could run hard for about five laps, then I was done, I was a sitting duck. We did what we had to do.”
Jones has finished in the top 10 in all five of his starts for Busch, but had a dominating race Friday night by leading three times for a race-high 84 laps.
“To be able to bring it home with KBM is really special for me,” Jones said. “Really felt like it was our race all day and didn’t want to let it slip away.”
Jones had to pass Ross Chastain, a 20-year-old driving for Brad Keselowski. Chastain started from the pole and led 63 laps, and was out front on the final restart with 11 laps remaining. But Jones got by him with nine to go to grab his first win.
“I tried taking his line away, I tried to bonsai him on that restart, about wrecked,” Chastain said. “I got the lead and held him off, but after a lap of green, I couldn’t hold the bottom like I needed to and he was so fast. I don’t know what else I could have done besides wreck him, and that’s not what I’m here to do.”