Erik Jones ran out of fuel while leading in the final laps of the Truck series race and wrecked near the finish of Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race.
In between, however, the 18-year-old from Michigan earned a lot of respect.
When Jones wrecked late in the Cup race, he even got a rare compliment from Chad Knaus, crew chief for six-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
“I really hate that for him. He was doing a good job,” Knaus said over his team radio at the time.
It was a whirlwind weekend for Jones at Kansas Speedway, which included leading 151 of the 167 laps in Friday night’s Toyota Tundra 250 before running out of gas with less than six laps remaining.
Saturday night, he made his first official start in the Cup series, filling in for the injured Kyle Busch, who is also his truck team owner.
Jones qualified 12th and ran solidly in the top 15 most of the race until he spun on his own on Lap 196 of 267. He ended up finishing 40th.
“He absolutely has nothing to hang his head about whatsoever,” said Fox TV analyst and former crew chief, Larry McReynolds.
Hall of Fame driver Darrell Waltrip agreed.
“He did it all. He ran up front, got that experience (including) those restarts and how chaotic they can be,” Waltrip said. “He also learned a valuable lesson. You can’t let your guard down. You’ve got to stay up on the wheel all the time.”
Saturday’s race might be Jones’ only one in Busch’s No. 18 Toyota this season – any more starts will depend on Busch’s recovery from leg and foot injuries suffered in an Xfinity Series race in February.
Matt Crafton subbed for Busch in the season-opening Daytona 500, with David Ragan taking over the following week at Atlanta and remaining in the seat through this month’s race at Talladega, Ala.
Ragan has since moved to Michael Waltrip Racing to finish in the season in its No. 55 Toyota, leaving Busch’s ride in limbo until his return.
This week, Jones will focus on his regular Truck ride as he attempts to win Friday night’s N.C. Education Lottery 250 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
But there were valuable lessons learned at Kansas.
“I learned a lot about racing up front and racing with these guys. It’s definitely nice to be as fast as we were,” Jones said.
“The wreck was all my fault – I guess I have to go back and figure it out. You know, we had a good night before that. Something to take from it.
“I’m ready to do another one – I hope I get another shot.”
Based on performance, he likely won’t have to wait long.
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