A young man’s championship: Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick vie for Truck title

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While the Camping World Truck Series came into existence in 1995, Erik Jones and Tyler Reddick wouldn’t for another year.

Now, both 19-year-old drivers are 134 laps from making NASCAR history.

Barring a series of unforeseen events in tonight’s Truck series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Jones or Reddick will be the youngest champion in the series’ history.

The average age of the last five drivers to win a Truck title, based off the year they won it, was 35.8. Matt Crafton, the two-time defending champion, was 38 last year.

“To be able to put ourselves in this position to have a great shot to go and get it, that’s just a big accomplishment in itself,” Jones said Tuesday in a teleconference with Reddick. “I’d be really, really happy if we can bring that (championship) back to (Kyle Busch Motorsports). For everything they’ve done for me, and for everything Kyle has done for me. To be the youngest to do it would be a bonus for me.”

Despite winning 45 races in its five seasons in the Truck series, Kyle Busch Motorsports has yet win a driver’s title. That could change with the Ford EcoBoost 200 with Jones, who enters the race with three wins and 11 top-five finishes.

Brad Keselowski Racing has eight wins in 206 races since 2008 and also doesn’t have a driver’s title.

Reddick takes to the 1.5-mile track with two wins and 13 top fives. The first win – also the first of his career after 17 prior starts – came in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. It took Jones nine races to get his first win of 2015.

“Being the youngest would be a bonus as well,” Reddick said. “But aside from that and the bigger picture, obviously this is a big deal to everyone at Brad Keselowski Racing. It’s a really big deal to Brad too. He’s really been wanting a championship for his team and everyone else back at the shop has been working hard at it.”

Two years removed from their first NASCAR national starts, Jones and Reddick are separated by 19 points entering tonight’s race. It’s the closest gap between first and second entering the final race since 2012 when James Buescher and Timothy Peters were separated by 11 points.

Reddick has one advantage over Jones. Both will be making their 40th truck starts Friday, but Jones will be making his first at the 1.5-mile track. Reddick started fourth and finished sixth at this track last year.

“Fortunately last year there we had a good bit of speed and we were fast, so we just go in and continue to work on the things we did when we were last there, I think we’ll be fast,” Reddick said. “Obviously, the situation we’re in, we’re going to have to run very good.”

Jones isn’t inexperienced at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch gave Jones practice laps there last year and the No. 4 team tested there earlier this season.

“We saved a test for him to be able to have a test here,” Busch said during media day for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship race. “I don’t think he was necessarily ready when they unloaded, but he learned a lot and did a really good job. I’m optimistic that he’ll have a good day.”

With a 19-point cushion over Reddick, Jones knows he doesn’t necessarily have to race for a win or take the risks that would come with a smaller point differential. He won’t feel forced to run in the top five or even the top 10.

“I think it’s going to be somewhat conservative of an approach, but I don’t think we need to change our approach by a whole lot,” Jones said. “Obviously, Homestead and the big risk for anybody is getting up into the fence the way you get around that place. But I think most of the day we’ll just concentrate on not ever really getting up by the wall. We don’t need to make that kind of time.”

But just within range will be Reddick. The California native will be looking for any opening after finishing in fifth in each of the last four races.

“Obviously racing hard for first or second is totally different than racing hard for 10th,” said Reddick, who has leaned on the experiences of Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Alex Tagliani during his first full season. “Going into the next year (that) is something that I’ve definitely picked up on and put in the bank for next year and all the races yet to come. Trying to race really hard and end up wrecking for 10th is a lot different than for the win.”

But a win is what it might take to make history.