NASCAR AT POCONO: Kyle Busch Matches Hornaday For Career Truck Series Wins

July 29, 2018

LONG POND — Kyle Busch almost did too good a job finding a fill-in. When Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Noah Gragson became ill Saturday, Busch tabbed Erik Jones as his replacement in the No. 18 Toyota for the Gander Outdoors 150 at Pocono Raceway. Busch wound up having to hold off the hard-charging Jones in the closing laps to take the checkered flag in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. Rookie Dalton Sargeant finished a career-best third. Stewart Friesen and Justin Haley rounded out the top five. It was the 51st career Truck Series victory for Busch, tying him with Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. for the all-time lead. Fittingly, the historic win came with Busch driving the No. 51 Toyota. “It’s kind of funny the way numbers work, isn’t it?” Busch said. However, Jones almost spoiled the party. Gragson was fastest during Friday’s final practice. But he’s been battling a stomach virus and prior to Saturday morning’s qualifying session he almost passed out and was taken to the infield care center. After being examined, doctors did not clear him to drive. However, NASCAR issued Gragson a medical waiver for the playoffs later this season. Drivers must compete in every race in order to be eligible. Needing a replacement driver, Busch turned to Jones, who drove 41 races for KBM from 2013-16 and won the series championship in 2015. “First and foremost, it’s who’s here and then you look at, OK, who is still my teammate at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and if Erik Jones could fit (in the seat),” Busch said. “Obviously, him and (crew chief) Rudy have a great relationship and connection of a couple years ago winning a championship together. So, that was the first decision, first choice, and thankfully Jones said that he would be happy to do it.” Suddenly, Jones had to change his mindset for a race he wasn’t expecting to run. “I was planning on probably going back and taking a nap and catching the end of the truck race,” Jones said. “So, I had to really kind of reset and try to think back. I don’t really have any notes with me here on truck racing and had to think back to what I did here, I guess, three years ago in the trucks.” He proved to have quick recall. Despite starting 31st in the 32-car field, Jones rapidly made his way to the front and ultimately challenged Busch, who started on the pole. “We had a great truck,” Jones said. “We fired off and it was very quick and we were able to get up to the front pretty fast.” With eight laps to go in the 60-lap race, Busch was leading, but encountered lapped traffic exiting Turn 1. Jones took advantage and momentarily was able to take the lead. As they headed to Turn 2, a lapped truck slowed Jones’ momentum and Busch powered past Jones on the outside to retake the lead. Over the final laps, Busch pulled away and won by a margin of 1.469 seconds. “It was a close moment,” Jones said. “I knew that was probably our shot. I used up a lot of the truck just to make that one move. I was trying to save for that moment hoping that he was going to catch (lapped traffic) weird and it just didn’t work out.” Sargeant, sitting in third place, watched the battle just in case the two top trucks took out each other. “I thought about it for a little bit,” Sargeant said. “I was hoping I’d have a little more for those guys. But we took only two tires on the last pit stop and I believe the two of them both had taken four. “Overall, it still was a good race for us. I was able to learn a lot following behind those guys for a handful of laps.” Reflecting on the milestone, Busch credited the teams and people he’s worked over the years. “I can’t say enough about everybody that’s gotten these win totals to where they’re at,” Busch said. “It’s a true testament to all the hard work, all the dedication and perseverance everybody has.” Contact the writer: swalsh@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 ext. 5109; @swalshTT on Twitter

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