AVONDALE, ARIZ. (AP) - When Erik Jones took the checkers in Friday night’s Truck Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, he became the youngest winner in series history at 17 years, 4 months.
He broke a record that stood for two months.
Yep, the Trucks Series is no longer where old drivers ride off to the twilight of their careers. The kids are taking over, and some of them are awfully good already.
“This sport, the young kids _ we’ve said it all year _ are a different crop than we’ve had lately,” said Brandon Gaughan, who finished third behind Jones.
Jones won Friday night by driving like a pro despite his young age, aggressively but not recklessly, moving into the lead with nine laps left for his first win on NASCAR’s national level _ in his fifth start.
The driver he passed was 20-year-old Ross Chastain, who won the pole, led 63 laps and was in the lead coming out of the final restart with 11 laps left.
This on the heels of Chase Elliott’s barrier-breaking win in September, when he won in Bowmanville, Ontario, at 17 years, 9 months.
The difference this season is not necessarily that there are better young drivers. It’s just that the younger drivers are getting their big shot earlier.
Jones drives for Kyle Busch’s team, Chastain for Brad Keselowski’s and Elliott for Hendrick Motorsports. Young drivers didn’t get chances like these even a few years ago.
“There were great drivers three, four years ago, but they weren’t in great, great equipment,” said Matt Crafton, who needs only to start in the season finale next week at Homestead to wrap up the series championship. “Some of those drivers two, three, four years ago didn’t have the great opportunity that some of these young drivers have today. That’s what’s making them shine.”
Jones‘ victory was no surprise to his team. They had seen the talent and hard work he had put in to earn his moment.
“If you don’t have the best race car driver, you can have race cars but not win the races,” said Rick Ren, general manager of Kyle Busch Motorsports. “This is really a good moment for Erik, really proud of him and his family. His family has put in a lot of effort to get him to this point, but he’s very focused. He talks to Kyle, he asks a lot of questions and he has the stuff that you see out of good race car drivers that I have already (seen) at a young age.”