Young Erik Jones ‘graduating’ to Nationwide – at least for a night

Erik Jones prepares to receive his high school diploma from Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage during truck series driver introductions on June 6.

Erik Jones has two wins and six top-10 finishes in nine career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

The epitome of a quick learner, the 18-year-old and recent high school graduate now believes he’s ready to test his skills at the next level, and he’ll get just that opportunity in Saturday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Wheeling the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota being shared this season by multiple drivers, Jones is primarily focused on gaining seat time in a totally different type of vehicle than he customarily drives. But that’s not Jones’ only goal for his Nationwide debut, which comes just eight days after scoring his second career truck win in impressive fashion at Iowa Speedway.

"I’m just going to be looking to make laps and get to the end of the race and hopefully running up in the top 10," Jones said of his strategy for Saturday night’s 300. "At the end of the day we’re all race car drivers and we all want to go for the win. I think we’ll be challenging hard to do all we can to run up front and contend, and at the end of the day I hope we’ll be up there. 

"I know we’ve got great equipment and a great team. I’m pretty excited to see what it’s all going to bring."

No matter how things go at Chicagoland, plans call for the young Michigan native to make two more Nationwide starts for JGR — at Bristol in August and Phoenix in November — all while continuing his part-time schedule in the truck he’s sharing with team owner Kyle Busch for the second consecutive year.

Jones, Busch and fellow KBM driver Darrell Wallace Jr. have combined to win seven of the season’s first nine truck races, making KBM the organization that everyone is clearly chasing in 2014 — a season that, it should be noted, has yet to reach its halfway point for the truck series.

NASCAR penalizes Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Erik Jones

"I think there’s definitely an expectation every time you step into a race car that’s successful and always runs well, especially with the 51 truck this year," Jones said. "Kyle has been extremely dominant, and every time I get into it, it makes me feel more confident just knowing that the truck can win and we have a shot to win every weekend."

After becoming the youngest winner in truck history last November in just his fifth series start, Jones needed only four starts this year to reach Victory Lane for the second time.

Heading into his Nationwide debut still fresh off last weekend’s truck victory at Iowa, Jones describes his current fun level as "through the roof."

"It was great to get the first one — it felt great — but that second one almost meant more, just to get to add another win, and say, ‘Man, we can do this every week,’" Jones said. "We can go to the racetrack and have trucks that can win races and bring home wins week in and week out.

"It’s just really upped my confidence for the rest of the season in the trucks and even in these Nationwide starts we’ve got, so I’m looking forward to it all."