NEWTON — Every so often, there are nights in NASCAR’s top three series when you realize you’re watching the sport’s future grow up before your eyes.
Saturday night at Iowa Speedway was one of those nights, as two of the rising talents in the sport went head to head for the victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol 200.
Erik Jones, an 18-year-old running a part-time schedule for Kyle Busch Motorsports and Ryan Blaney, a 20-year-old running a full-time schedule for Brad Keselowski Racing, raced side by side for the win in the closing stages.
The race went to Jones — the second of his career — but not without a fight.
“It’s so cool to race with a guy that’s close to your age like that and really battle it out,” Jones said. “I think it shows how good these young guys are, and that we can go out and do it.
“To race hard with him like that was really fun. He’s definitely a great driver. To be able to go out and race hard and end up on top is pretty special to me.”
As for Blaney, he led twice for 26 laps, and lost the lead on the final pit stop.
He got his first career Truck Series win at Iowa Speedway in 2012, and was racing as hard as he could — as evidenced by him getting sideways trying to pass Jones through lapped traffic. The result left him happy with a solid finish, but frustrated at coming up short on a track he really enjoys, finishing second.
“It’s unfortunate (to) run a truck race and Nationwide race here and finish second (in both) after leading a bunch of laps,” Blaney said. “If we could have kept the lead after the pit stop, I feel like we would’ve had a better shot at beating him.”
Jones led the most laps in the race at 131, which also set a career-high for the recent high school graduate.
The NASCAR Next class member has been in contention in nearly every race he’s run this season in Kyle Busch’s No. 51 truck, but bad luck has bit him on multiple occasions. Spins in two races where he was running in the top five left him even hungrier than normal for a win, he said.
“I get limited opportunities … and you really want to try to make your mark every time you get in (the truck),” Jones said. “It’s a tough industry, and when you get turned around or something like that, it’s really just a bummer and you have to take that week and just throw it away.
“I was glad we could get out front and command the race and bring it home.”
The hard racing wasn’t limited to the race for the win. At lap 63, Timothy Peters and Ron Hornaday made contact off Turn 4 after Peters thought he was clear of Hornaday while making a pass.
Both drivers ended up scraping the wall. Then, out of Turn 2, Peters spun Hornaday, effectively ruining both drivers’ races and tearing the nose off Peters’ truck.
The two talked after the race, and Hornaday said the incident will move past both drivers quickly, as they’ve both raced each other clean in the past and want that to continue in the future.
“It was just close quarters racing, I guess,” Hornaday said. “It’s a shame. I thought he did it, he thought I did it. The bad part about it, we’re both racing for a championship and it hurts us even worse. You’ve got to let it go. It’s just one of them things. You race hard when you run together week in and week out, (and) you’re gonna have things like that.
“It’s over. We race hard and all that stuff. Why let it carry over? Getting too old for that stuff — at least I am.”
©2014 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
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