2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion Erik Jones gives his acceptance speech during the end-of-season banquet at the Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood, Florida.
RELATED: Complete Miami race results " Series standings HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- With the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title now in Erik Jones ' rear-view mirror, the immediate question becomes "What's next for the 19-year-old prodigy?" With a relatively nondescript, problem-free sixth-place finish in Friday night's Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway , Jones secured the series driver's championship, as well as the owner's title for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Discovered by Busch when he beat his future car owner as a 16-year-old in the Snowball Derby for Super Late Models, Jones delivered the championship after running two part-time seasons for KBM. "I can't think of a better way to repay these guys," Jones said in Victory Lane, after securing the title by 15 points over runner-up Tyler Reddick . "I can't think of a better way to thank Kyle for all these years (than by) getting the driver’s championship for him. He's wanted one since the company started, and to bring it home for myself and for KBM, you couldn't really ask for a better ending than that." The youngest champion in series history at 19 years, 5 months, 21 days, Jones has been earmarked for a meteoric ascent to the top level of NASCAR racing. "It means so much more to have the opportunity to help these younger drivers and to help these kids that are coming up through the ranks to be successful," Busch said. "And to do that with Kyle Busch Motorsports and Toyota, there's nothing greater than to have that feeling and to build that company from the ground up, from nothing, and take it to where it is today." But first things first. Team owner Joe Gibbs reiterated on Friday the plan to run Jones in a full season of NASCAR XFINITY Series racing next year, with a few selected Sprint Cup events added to the mix. Jones has already gotten his baptism in Sprint Cup . Earlier this season, he subbed for Kyle Busch at Kansas, the last of 11 races Busch missed after breaking his right leg and left foot in the season-opening XFINITY Series event at Daytona. Jones filled a relief role for Denny Hamlin at Bristol in April, after Hamlin's neck locked up during a rain delay. And when Matt Kenseth earned a two-race suspension for wrecking Joey Logano on Nov. 1 at Martinsville, Jones was tabbed to replace him. His first laps in a Sprint Cup car were hardly tentative. Behind the wheel of Busch's No. 18 Toyota, he ran consistently in the top 10 before crashing on lap 196 of 267 at Kansas. Subbing for Kenseth at Texas and Phoenix, Jones qualified sixth and seventh, respectively, and finished 12th and 19th against the top stock car drivers in the world. Despite the speed he has shown in the Sprint Cup series, Jones is content to let his career take its course. "Absolutely, I think the XFINITY Series is completely necessary," Jones said. "I have no problem running a year there … as long as need be there. I don't know what the exact career path is for me down the road. "At some point, yeah, I want to race in the Cup series every weekend. I feel like there's a plan in place for that opportunity to arise. And I'll just keep taking what's given to me every week and go out and try to win races."
With the way the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was turning laps around the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in Sunday's AAA Texas 500 , you'd think a certain former premier series champion was behind the wheel. Instead, it was 19-year-old Erik Jones . Filling in for the suspended Matt Kenseth , Jones -- in just his second career Sprint Cup Series start and third Sprint Cup appearance, all of which were in other drivers' cars -- spent much of the day in the top 10 in what proved to be a challenging race for some of the sport's most seasoned vets. Jones wasn't invincible to the rampant tire issues that plagued many, having a right-front go down and tearing up the nose of his Toyota Camry, but he battled back to finish 12th, a more-than-acceptable result for a driver still earning his stripes. "I wish we could have been a little stronger there at the end," Jones said on pit road after the race. "We had that right-front go down and it tore the nose up pretty good so kind of took us out of a shot at a top-10. To still come home 12th is a good day for us." Jones -- originally scheduled to run both the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series races -- had to change his Sunday plans when he learned on Thursday that Matt Kenseth had lost both appeals to get his suspension dropped and that a replacement was needed. His doubleheader quickly turned into a tripleheader, and a successful one at that. The Kyle Busch Motorsports/ Joe Gibbs Racing driver built on his points lead with a win in Friday's Truck Series race and followed it up with a fourth-place showing in Saturday's XFINITY event. Perhaps the biggest things he'll take away from the weekend, however, are the lessons learned on Sunday. "You really have to be on top of your game and if you have any mistake like we did with the right-front, it really takes you out of any shot you have to run well," said Jones . "Just staying in it and staying out front, that's the biggest thing you need to do. I thought we did a decent job of staying in the top 10 all day up to that point. Other than that, it was a good day for us." Jones , who also mentioned he's "ready to take a day off" after the busy weekend, gets to do it all again (the tripleheade that is) next weekend. Kenseth's suspension will keep him out until Homestead, thus "The Kid" will suit up once more for the Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix. Jones picked up his first career NASCAR national series victory there in 2013 at the age of 17 in the November Truck Series race, then backed it up the following year with another. With an added week of preparation with No. 20 crew chief Jason Ratcliff, the combination sets himself up for even higher expectations in his third career start. So does he feel he could win? "I'd like to think so," Jones said. "My fortune has been very good at Phoenix, it's a track I really like and actually JGR was there testing a month or two ago. I feel pretty good about it and feel going there we have a good package. "I feel confident in my ability and think that's definitely a place where we can go up and run top-10. You never know, if the weekend is going well we could probably be up front and challenge for it."
RELATED: Watch Jones' award speech HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- One night after Kyle Busch took a bow as a first-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, he helped to toast the youngster who brought him his first driver's title as a team owner. With milk. On a night for honoring new champions, Erik Jones and Chris Buescher took center stage at the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series Awards at the Diplomat Resort and Spa. For Buescher, it marked the 23-year-old's first national series championship in just his second full year in the series. For Jones , the title march coincided with a Sunoco Rookie of the Year campaign. Busch was missing from Monday night's awards, occupied with the media duties and obligations that came with winning his first premier series title at Homestead-Miami Speedway . His wife, Samantha, attended on behalf of Kyle Busch Motorsports, which claimed the team owners' title for the third straight year. With Busch making the rounds with the Sprint Cup trophy, Ed Laukes, Toyota's vice president of marketing communications and motorsports, provided an assist in toasting Jones' stellar season. But the raised glass for the 19-year-old was full of milk, a half-joking homage to Dale Earnhardt's toast of first-time champion Jeff Gordon in 1995. "I wish Kyle would've been there to see his creation come to life, I guess you'd say," said Jones , who won three races and five pole positions in his first full season. "I think he had a good excuse to miss it, but that was funny. That's definitely a Kyle thing he would do, especially to me." Buescher's coronation on the XFINITY tour came after a two-win season with hallmark consistency -- 20 top-10s in 33 races. Monday night, he took his place with his Roush Fenway Racing team at the head table, saying that he showed a slight case of nerves in the Great Hall's gala setting. Jitters notwithstanding, the experience capped a stellar 48-hour period full of well-wishes from his peers. "The coolest thing is just having so many different people come up and say congratulations and we've seen what you've done to work for this and it's awesome to see you here," Buescher said. "Stuff like that means that all those years working up to this point were well worth it. It's been countless hours, many all-nighters to make sure we could get to the next ARCA race at night. We've done so many things to try and get to this point, and to finally be here, it's special. It's very humbling." Chase Elliott , the driver who preceded Buescher as series champion, took Most Popular Driver honors with him as he transitions to the Sprint Cup Series next year, replacing Jeff Gordon in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet. NASCAR Next driver John Hunter Nemechek was voted Most Popular Driver in the Camping World Truck Series. Daniel Suarez , another product of the NASCAR Next program, was named Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the XFINITY Series.
Erik Jones celebrates at Homestead-Miami Speedway as he becomes the youngest champion in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history.
Matt Crafton wins the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway while Erik Jones becomes the youngest champion in NCWTS history.
RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings AVONDALE, Ariz. -- A hard-edged contest for the lead snared two championship contenders, and a pit-stop misstep hindered the third, as Friday the 13th luck haunted the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title race at Phoenix International Raceway . While Timothy Peters scooted away with his second victory of the season, Erik Jones , Tyler Reddick and Matt Crafton all played damage control Friday night in a topsy-turvy Lucas Oil 150 . Once the curtain closed on the next-to-last event of the season, Jones inched closer to his first NASCAR national series crown, Reddick made modest but unfulfilling gains and Crafton's hopes for extending his title reign to three years grew dimmer. After a late-race restart, Jones and Crafton collided with 30 laps to go on the exit of Turn 4. Crafton caught the worst of the melee, collecting ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter at speed on the frontstretch. Jones , the pole-starter, emerged with relatively minor damage on the left-rear fender, rallying from a pit stop to finish ninth. Crafton spent significant time behind the wall for repairs, finishing 20 laps down in 23rd place. Crafton and Jones had raced fiercely earlier in the 150-lapper, and their contact near the end was no different. But the two-time series champ absorbed the blame for the fateful brush. "It was 100 percent my fault," said Crafton, who led three times for 15 laps. "We were close and it was tight racing. When you get somebody side-by-side with you, I just got loose and made a mistake. Things happen, we're all human and we'll go on to Homestead. I hate it for the guys, we had such a good truck. We'll just hold our heads up and go to Homestead." Jones , who can eliminate Crafton from the title picture with a result of 27th or better in the 32-truck field in next Friday's season-ending Ford EcoBoost 200 (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) at Homestead-Miami Speedway , said the contact was simply the byproduct of hard-nosed competition. "There was definitely some hard racing," said Jones , who led five times for 106 laps. "He didn't want us to get the lead obviously and slipped up and made a mistake. It's going to happen, it's racing, it's hard racing and we both had fast trucks. It's just a shame when you lose a shot at the win. ... "At that moment I wasn't thinking about the championship. I was thinking about winning a race and that flashed before my eyes. I was somewhat worried about it, I wasn't too concerned about it, I figured we'd be OK since obviously the 88 (Crafton) was involved as well. Still a 19-point lead and that's a solid margin to go into Homestead." Reddick actually gained a spot in the standings with a fifth-place finish, but failed to capitalize more on the misfortunes of Crafton and Jones . The 19-year-old driver said his Brad Keselowski Racing team would investigate possible trouble on his No. 19 Ford's right-front, which led to a balky tire change on his final pit stop. Jones can close out Reddick in the season finale by placing 15th or better, 16th with leading one lap, and 17th with leading the most laps. Though a mathematic chance at taking the title exists, Reddick was despondent in the immediate aftermath of defeat, calling the night "a real shame." "We still needed to win the race and that was all I really cared about doing," Reddick said. "Running fifth is not going to win us a championship."
RELATED: Full lineup Erik Jones picked up his second consecutive 21 Means 21 Pole at Phoenix International Raceway , and his fifth of 2015, topping the field for all three rounds of qualifying Friday afternoon. Jones , who has yet to lose in a truck at Phoenix, increased his speed in each round, leading the first one at 135.988 mph, improving to 136.856 mph in the second and settling in on 137.515 mph, a track record. The current Camping World Truck Series points leader earned his first NASCAR national series win at Phoenix in 2013 and backed that up by winning from the pole in last year's event. Tyler Reddick will join Jones on the front row, qualifying with a best speed of 136.934 mph in the final round. JJ Haley (136.778 mph) and two-time defending series champion Matt Crafton (136.622 mph) comprise the second row. Tune in for Friday's Lucas Oil 150 at 8:30 p.m. ET, with coverage on FS1.
Matt Crafton and Erik Jones wreck off Turn 4 while battling for the lead at Phoenix International Raceway.
Matt Crafton takes blame for the wreck off Turn 4 at Phoenix International Raceway and Erik Jones talks about the wreck taking both trucks out of contention for the win.