Kyle Busch is one of the few people that knows what driving in the NACSAR Camping World Truck Series feels like as a 16-year-old. In fact, he was the last 16-year old to compete in the series before NASCAR imposed a minimum age requirement of 18 near the end of the 2001 season. So, it is very fitting that with Saturday’s Kroger 250 being the first race under NASCAR’s new modified age requirement - which allows 16 and 17-year-olds to race on ovals 1.1-miles or shorter in length as well as road courses - that Busch, now an owner, will field 16-year-old Erik Jones in his No. 51 Tundra.
When Jones takes the green flag for Saturday’s 250-lap race, his first of five events scheduled for this season, he will become the first 16-year-old to compete in the Truck Series since Oct. 14, 2001. That day, Busch finished ninth in the Orleans 350 at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway and picked up his second top-10 finish in six starts. Busch was scheduled to run a few more races in 2001 and a full schedule in 2002, but was forced out of the truck when NASCAR imposed its minimum age requirement.
Jones enters his Truck Series debut already haven proven capable of winning on some of late model racing’s biggest stages. In August of 2010, at the age of 14, he became the youngest winner in ASA Late Model History when he won the Bob Cross Memorial at Dixie Motor Speedway in Birch Run, Mich. Then, just over a month later he became the youngest winner of the prestigious Oktoberfest Super Late Model race at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway in West Salem, Wisc. In 2011, Jones collected seven fast time awards two feature wins en route to the JEGS/CRA Late Model All-Star Tour championship. Later that year, he became the first non-Florida resident in over 30 years to win the Governor’s Cup Super Late Model race at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway.
Already boasting an impressive resume for a young driver, Jones earned the respect of Busch from their dealings at a pair of late model races last season. With the Sprint Cup Series racing at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway the same weekend as the All-American 400 at Nashville (Tenn.) Fairgrounds Speedway last October, the NASCAR star was unable to participate in all of the practices for the event. Jones stepped in and helped fine tune KBM’s No. 51, leaving Busch with what was the dominant car in the first half of the race before he cut a tire after picking up debris during a long rain delay and ended up in the wall. Then, last December on the biggest late model stage in the country, the Michigan native outdueled Busch in the closing laps of the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. en route to victory in the prestigious event.
“I’ve been around Erik a few times running late models -- he’s a good kid and a good driver, so we’re excited to be adding him to the crop of young talent we’ve assembled at KBM this season,” Busch said. “He did a nice job practicing my late model at Nashville last year for the All-American 400 and then he raced me hard and clean in the closing laps of the Snowball Derby to win that race. Doing those types of things is how you get recognized in this sport.”
When practice starts on Friday and the new kid is officially on the clock, he will be equipped with the same No. 51 Tundra that Denny Hamlin drove to victory in last October’s Truck Series race at the half-mile track. With KBM’s history of success at Martinsville, the teenager is hoping to add a Truck Series top-10 finish to his resume when he clocks out.