WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 Advance & Entry List
For many, graduating high school is a memorable experience spent in their hometown celebrating with friends and family. For NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie Erik Jones, "memorable" may be an understatement.
His family will be there, but his "friends" will all be in firesuits and his "celebration" will be spent going 180 miles around Texas Motor Speedway's 1.5-mile oval during Friday evening's WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.
Jones, just seven days after his 18th birthday, is now eligible to race on his first 1.5-mile oval per approval from NASCAR. It just so happens that the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 falls on the same day as the high school senior's graduation. Dedicated to his dream, Jones chose to forego the opportunity to walk across the stage with his fellow classmates and compete in one of NASCAR's top-tier series in the No. 51 Hiring Our Heroes/ToyotaCare Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Jones, however, will get the best of both worlds come Friday evening and he will indeed walk the stage and receive his diploma as Texas Motor Speedway will play host to his graduation ceremony.
At 7:35 p.m. CT Friday, just minutes before the drivers are introduced for the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400, Jones will walk across the pre-race stage in his cap and gown from Swartz Creek (Mich.) Community Schools to receive his high school diploma from Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage as "Pomp and Circumstance" plays on the PA system. Joined alongside Gossage will be Jones' parents Dave and Carol as well as his sister Lindsey.
Gossage, donned in traditional faculty attire with cap and gown as well as a hood that properly represents his BA in Mass Communications from Middle Tennessee State University, also will present Jones with an additional diploma signifying his graduation to 1.5-mile tracks in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
"I really only dreamed about running a NASCAR race, so I definitely couldn't imagine getting a high school diploma at one," Jones said. "I think it fits pretty well. The balance of my life since I was about seven (years old) has been those two things. It'll make for a great story someday and something that will make the torture of getting through high school more meaningful.
"Talking with friends the other day, they were wondering if I was going to be walking with my class. After I told them what was going to happen, they thought it was pretty awesome. I really can't think of a better way to get a diploma than at a race track, ready to go racing."
Jones did not grow up in a Southeast racing hotbed but rather tiny Byron, Mich., a village in Burns Township with a population of 567 that is 24 miles southwest of Flint. In December of 2012, the then-16-year-old Jones caught the eye of NASCAR superstar Kyle Busch when Jones beat him at the prestigious Snowball Derby late-model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. Afterward, Jones' dream of competing in NASCAR became a reality when Busch signed him to a contract with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Despite his young age and thanks to a rule that NASCAR put in place, Jones was allowed to start racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on tracks 1.1 miles and shorter in 2013. He immediately showed he belonged as he had had top-10 finishes in his first four races and then won what would be his fifth and final race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway. At 17 years, 5 months and 9 days old, Jones became the youngest driver in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history to win a race.
Now 18 years old, Jones will get his first crack at a 1.5-mile speedway during the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400. For Jones, there's no better mentor than his NCWTS team owner Kyle Busch heading to Texas Motor Speedway. Busch leads all drivers with nine wins across all three national NASCAR series, including two in the Camping World Truck Series.
"I sat down with Kyle (Busch), Eric Phillips (crew chief) and Rudy Fugle (engineer) last week to talk about everything that comes with prepping for a mile-and-a-half track and every detail of Texas Motor Speedway," Jones said. "They all briefed me on what to expect and how to handle it all. I really think that's a big help as a driver, especially going to somewhere new. Kyle is always a big help every weekend when I go to a race track in the truck.
"It was great that NASCAR opened up the age to 16 for the truck series on short tracks, but still the main goal is to get on those big tracks. That's where the bulk of the schedule is so I think that's something that every driver looks forward to. Texas Motor Speedway is also a place that Kyle and his KBM team have had a lot of success so I hope to go out there and keep that streak alive."
If history has anything to say about it, Jones has a good chance at notching his second career win as Texas Motor Speedway has been kind to first-timers over the last year. Jeb Burton got his first career NASCAR win in his first attempt at Texas Motor Speedway at the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 in June, 2013. This past April, Chase Elliott followed suit with his first career win in his first attempt at Texas in the NASCAR Nationwide Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 300.
The WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 will be just Jones' second start of the season, with his lone one coming March 29 at the .526-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. He started fourth and finished 18th.
"As a racer, I always put my expectations high," Jones said. "The Toyota Care Tundra has been great on every track this year so I'm really going to look to go out and try to keep the streak alive for them. I feel very confident about the truck going into Texas and I think we have a shot to run up in the top five and contend for the win."
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series opens at Texas Motor Speedway on Thursday with practice from 5-6 p.m. and final practice from 6:30-8 p.m. The NTT DATA Qualifying Day for the NCWTS will be Friday beginning at 4:10 p.m. followed by the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 (167 laps/250.5 miles) at 8 p.m. The race will be broadcast live on FOX Sports 1 as well as on radio with MRN (national), Sirius XM NASCAR Radio Ch. 90 (national) and KRLD - FM 105.3 The Fan (local).
Click here for the official WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 entry list.
NOTE: Erik Jones along with his parents Dave and Carol will be available following qualifying at 5:30 p.m. on Friday in the media center deadline room.
Back In The Saddle
Defending WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 winner Jeb Burton (No. 13 Estes Toyota) is returning to Texas Motor Speedway, the site of his first and currently his only NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win.
"It's a special feeling to have Estes on our Tundra as we come back to Texas, a race that I won last year," Burton said. "Texas has been a good track for me and hopefully we can carry some of the momentum we've been building this season and maybe get a win.
"We had a good truck at Charlotte before it got wrecked on the last lap while we were racing for third so there's no reason we can't contend on Friday because we only have five races together and we've been getting better every week."
Burton, 21, is coming off of a successful rookie campaign in 2013 after finishing fifth in the championship driving for Turner Scott Motorsports. His 2014 season, however, nearly ended before it began when an unexpected truck sponsorship default forced a parting of ways and Turner Scott Motorsports shut down his No. 4 entry.
With Burton unemployed, ThorSport Racing, based in Sandusky, Ohio, took a chance on the second-year driver and put together a third team. Beginning as just a part-time team based solely on sponsorship availability, Burton finished each race not knowing for sure if he'd be in the next. After running the first four races with two different sponsors, ThorSport reached an agreement with Estes Express Lines in the fifth to sponsor the remainder of the season, thus giving Burton the security of a fulltime ride for the remainder of this season. In his five starts, he has a pair of top-10 finishes, including a best of sixth at Kansas, and is ninth in the series championship standings.
"It means a lot for ThorSport Racing to sign the deal with Estes Express Lines, a Virginia company with an international reach, and for my team not to have to worry about being able to get to the racetrack every week," Burton said. "I really appreciate the commitment Mr. and Mrs. Thorson (ThorSport owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson) made to me and my family and it's great to have Estes come on board. It's nice to have that side of the program worked out and we're excited for the future and the potential of winning our first race."
The assembly of a new team always takes time to find a groove. Fortunately for Burton, ThorSport Racing has exhibited consistency and a winning culture with defending NCWTS champion Matt Crafton and two-time Texas Motor Speedway winner Johnny Sauter.
He also comes back to a track that served him his first NCWTS career victory. Burton passed Ty Dillon on the final restart and led the final 24 laps en route to a 0.139 of a second win over Dillon to become the youngest NCWTS winner at Texas Motor Speedway.
"To score my first win at Texas last year was pretty exciting," Burton said. "To do the same thing this season with ThorSport, we just have to keep showing the same improvement we have in the first five races this season and maybe we'll get a win soon."
Typically a three-truck team, Red Horse Racing suspended the operations of the No. 7 entry driven by Brian Ickler so they could focus on the championship efforts of their remaining two teams. Thus far, the move has paid off handsomely with Timothy Peters (No. 17 Red Horse Racing Toyota) leading the championship points and teammate German Quiroga (No. 77 NET 10 Wireless Toyota) in a surprising fourth, just six points behind Peters.
For Peters, early-season success is nothing new. In six fulltime NASCAR Camping World Truck Series seasons, Peters has been either first or second in the series championship after five races on four occasions. Despite the fast starts, Peters hasn't been able to stretch his success throughout a whole season and secure his first NCWTS championship. A second-place finish to Plano native James Buescher in 2012 is the closest he has come.
"Staying consistent like we have been is going to be the most important thing for our team," Peters said. "I want to do well at every track we visit, but Texas is one of those places where I'm looking to do really well. I'd really like to get the results column a little better there."
Texas Motor Speedway, however, hasn't been too kind to Peters. In 12 starts, he has just two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 15th, but a fifth-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a similar 1.5-mile oval, has him feeling optimistic heading into the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400.
"Coming off of a top-five finish in Charlotte gives me a lot of encouragement as we head to Texas," Peters said. "We've created some great momentum and we'll be looking to continue that trend this weekend."
Quiroga, a three-time champion in the NASCAR Toyota Series in Mexico, is in his second fulltime season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. As the only driver in the series to have a top-10 finish in each of the first five races, Quiroga is beginning to catch the eyes of his competitors. Heading to Texas Motor Speedway, there's reason to believe that the Mexico City native could be in line for his first NCWTS win. In 2013, Quiroga finished a career-best third in the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400.
"I really like Texas Motor Speedway," Quiroga said. "I think it's one of the tracks where I've completed the most laps at. It's one of the few tracks where we compete twice a year and we've done some testing there too, so I've been five or six times already. I think this has really helped me feel comfortable."
Keep On Trucking
Defending NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton (No. 88 Slim Jim/Menards Toyota) hasn't skipped a beat since capturing his first series title as he pursues a piece of history. Five races into this season, one victory and a pair of runner-up finishes has Crafton sitting just one point behind Timothy Peters for the series championship lead.
"Defending a championship in anything is never easy, but the performance of the team so far this season with our 2014 Menards Tundra has been very, very good," Crafton said. "We've had bad finishes at Daytona (13th) and Dover (23rd after suffering a wheel failure), but that doesn't mean that we weren't running good in both of them. We led laps (46) at Dover and we've been in contention to win in pretty much every race we've been at. So it can't get much better - except for finishing second behind Kyle Busch a couple of times."
If Crafton can remain in contention and secure a second consecutive championship, he would become the first in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history to win back-to-back championships since its inception in 1995.
"We certainly can make history by winning consecutive championships if we have all the luck go our way," Crafton said. "We just had a part failure at Dover, which is bad luck. We've proven that we've got the speed and now we've got to have the luck to go with it. And last Friday afternoon we didn't have the luck. Sometimes there are just things you can't control."
He arrives at the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 with more career NCWTS starts at Texas Motor Speedway (26) than any of his competitors, but the California native is still chasing his first win there. He has had plenty of success - a track-record 15 top-10 finishes including three runner-up efforts - but still is searching for that trip to Victory Lane.
"Winning at Texas would be cool, very cool. It's always one of those racetracks everyone wants to win at," Crafton said. "You want to be able to say you've won at Texas. Winning there would be a really good deal so hopefully we can keep our momentum that we've had the last four weeks, just go with that and let the chips fall where they will.
"Texas is tough. The track is aging and it's becoming an awesome racetrack now because the tires fall off and you slip and slide and the trucks move around and we've got to move around with our Tundra to find speed. So it's becoming an even more awesome place and I really can't put into words how much I'd like to win there."
Show Of Appreciation
As Joe Nemechek and his SWM-NEMCO Motorsports team travel to the backyard of the SWM campus, they will once again give The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center a high-speed salute as they sport the MD Anderson logo on their No. 8 Toyota Tundra in this weekend's WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Texas Motor Speedway.
Sid Mauldin, owner of SWM Gun Runners located in Pampa, Texas, and partner in SWM-NEMCO Motorsports, currently is receiving treatment at Houston's MD Anderson and wanted to share his experience with the NASCAR community while showing support for the facility that has provided such impeccable care.
"We have an excellent opportunity to thank MD Anderson by highlighting them on the hood of our race truck this weekend and I want to further thank them for all of their wonderful care," Mauldin said. "Dr. David Hong and his staff in the Targeted Therapy Department have gone above and beyond for me, and I want everyone in the racing community to know there is an incredible resource in MD Anderson should they ever find themselves having to battle this horrible disease."
Nemechek is sharing the NASCAR Camping Truck World Series schedule with his 16-year old son, John Hunter, who finished a career-best sixth at Dover this past weekend. It was the younger Nemechek's first time racing on the track in Dover and only fourth career start in the series. John Hunter Nemechek leads the "father/son challenge" with his best finish being the sixth at Dover to his father's eighth at Daytona.
Joe Nemechek has made a combined 42 career starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (23) and Nationwide Series (19) at Texas Motor Speedway, but this will mark his first start at "The Great American Speedway!" in the Camping World Truck Series.
Young's Motorsports driver Tyler Young (No. 02 Randco/Young's Building Systems Chevrolet) returns to his home state of Texas for Friday's WinStar World Casino & Resort 400. Young, a native of Midland, is coming off his best performance of the season, 17th at Dover this past weekend. He will be making his third NCWTS start at Texas, finishing a best of 19th in this event during his two visits last year. "Although I had never raced at Texas Motor Speedway until I got into the truck series, I grew up coming to the Sprint Cup races, dreaming about racing there one day," Young said. "I'm lucky to be one of the few that have seen those dreams become a reality. To be able to come back here on a professional level with all my family and friends in the grandstands is a neat experience and I hope to have a strong run for them and our partners." ... Ben Kennedy (No. 31 Chevrolet), great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France, will be making his first career start at Texas Motor Speedway driving for Turner Scott Motorsports. In the first five races of his rookie season, Kennedy has three top-10 finishes and is sixth in the NCWTS championship. ... Friday's WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 will be the 33rd NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event hosted at Texas Motor Speedway, the most among all tracks. Texas Motor Speedway has hosted two NCWTS events each year since 1999. ... The chances for a first-time winner at Texas Motor Speedway will be high for Friday night's WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 with only three former winners in the field. Ron Hornaday Jr. (3), Johnny Sauter (2) and Jeb Burton (1) are the only drivers entered in the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 with a previous victory at TMS.