Erik Jones to drive full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2015
One year ago this weekend, Erik Jones made history by becoming the youngest winner of a major NASCAR series race at 17 years, five months and nine days old.
Back at the site of that landmark accomplishment — Phoenix International Raceway — for Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race, Jones will look to capture his second victory in as many starts at the 1-mile Arizona track.
Even if Jones ultimately falls short of that goal, however, it will have been a good weekend. That’s because Kyle Busch Motorsports announced Thursday afternoon that after two part-time seasons in a KBM Toyota truck, the now 18-year-old driver will wheel a KBM Toyota on a full-time basis in 2015.
Meanwhile, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Thursday that Jones will compete on a limited basis for the organization next season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, which is now known as the Nationwide Series.
Jones has shared driving duties of the No. 51 KBM truck the past two seasons with team owner Kyle Busch. The Byron, Mich., native has made two Nationwide Series starts for Joe Gibbs Racing, both coming this year and both producing top-10 finishes.
In 11 truck starts this season, Jones has scored two wins — at Iowa and Las Vegas — to go along with his first career victory at Phoenix last fall.
"I’m confident that I’ll be able to take what I’ve learned running a part-time schedule the last two seasons and be able to go out and challenge for wins week in and week out and be a contender for the championship next season," said Jones, whose youngest winner distinction was supplanted in September when 16-year-old Cole Custer won a truck race at New Hampshire.
In a total of 16 truck starts between 2013 and 2014, Jones has posted six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes, resulting in a strong average finish of 8.7.
"Erik is more than ready to take the next step in his career and compete for a championship running full time in the Truck Series next year," Busch said. "Towards the end of this season, he had a stretch where he was behind the wheel for five of six races on all types of tracks and each week he went out, ran up front and showcased how talented he is at such a young age."
Ryan "Rudy" Fugle will be the crew chief for Jones’ full-time truck entry. The New York native led KBM’s No. 51 Tundra team to a series-leading six wins, including Jones’ historic Phoenix victory, and an owner title as crew chief in 2013. Fugle has contributed to an additional 10 wins in his role as race engineer for the organization during the 2012 and 2014 seasons.
"To have a chance to run full time in the Camping World Truck Series in the first year that I’m eligible to do so is huge, and there is no better opportunity in the series than to drive Toyota Tundras for Kyle Busch Motorsports," said Jones. "Rudy and I have developed a great relationship the last few years, and we’re going to have a quality team with a lot of familiar faces around us."
KBM didn’t announce its full 2015 driver lineup on Thursday, and Jones didn’t shed any real light on the plans for current full-time driver Darrell Wallace Jr. or Busch, a full-time Sprint Cup Series driver who has raced a limited truck schedule for KBM since 2010.
"I really don’t know," Jones said. "You’d have to ask them. I got my deal done, and that’s what I was really focused on. I don’t know what the rest of the situation is."
Jones admitted he would like to continue to campaign the No. 51, the number he’s shared this season with his boss.
"As for the number, it doesn’t make a whole world of difference to me, but I like the No. 51," Jones said. "I think it looks better than the 54, so hopefully we can stick with that one."