If you’ve ever sat on the side of the road, the gas gauge sitting on empty, there might be a place for you on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Erik Jones checked out on the field Friday during the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway. Between four cautions for 19 laps, he easily pulled away from the field, opening up a lead of more than 11 seconds on long runs in a dominant performance.
Then, Jones, 18, ran out of gas with six laps remaining. It was a rookie mistake for the rookie driver, but he wasn’t alone as two other drivers dropped off the lead with empty tanks.
That opened the door for two-time reigning champion and 2015 points leader Matt Crafton, a wily 15-year series veteran, to become the first two-time truck series winner at Kansas Speedway.
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“It was almost comical how they just dropped like flies there at the end,” said Carl Joiner Jr., Crafton’s crew chief.
After Jones pulled down pit road, settling for 11th place, Tyler Reddick assumed the lead for three laps.
Reddick, who wrecked with Brad Keselowski Racing teammate Austin Theriault during qualifying, weaved his backup car through the field after starting last, but he also didn’t have enough fuel to make it to the end.
“It’s the craziest finish to a race that I’ve been a part of in the truck series,” said Reddick, who finished 13th. “It was heart-wrenching, for sure. We thought we were good on fuel mileage, we really did. For us to run out with two laps to go, it stinks.”
Not as much as it did for Jones, who led a track-record 151 of the race’s 167 laps.
“We had by far the best truck,” he said. “It’s just so terrible for these guys when we bring that fast of a truck, (but) we couldn’t bring the win home.”
With Jones and Reddick eliminated, Daniel Suarez seized first place for one lap, but he also was on fumes and helpless as Crafton surged in front for the final two laps.
“We did all we can,” said Suarez, who finished sixth. “I started saving fuel since 30 laps to go. I was lifting way early. When I was in the draft, I was lifting the throttle even in the straightaway. … We knew that we were close.”
Not close enough.
“We definitely didn’t have the fastest truck, but I felt we had the second-fastest truck,” said Crafton, who lost track position because of a vibration and a four-tire pit stop. “I’ve lost on things like this, so, every once in a while, when you steal one, I don’t feel too bad about it.”
On the radio, Joiner told Crafton they were two laps short, but that was mere gamesmanship. The No. 88 Slim Jim/Menard’s Toyota had plenty of fuel for a post-race burnout, though the truck did get stuck on the waterlogged infield.
“I didn’t want to show our hand,” Joiner said. “Who is it, Kenny Rogers? You’ve got to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. I knew a lot of those guys were going to be short.”
Crafton, who won his seventh career truck series race and second of the season, extended his points lead from two to 17 points over Reddick. Jones trails Reddick by a point in third place.
Sprint Cup veteran Ryan Newman finished in second place, followed by Crafton’s ThorSport Racing teammates Johnny Sauter in third and Cameron Hayley in fifth.
That marked the first time team owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson had three drivers finish in the top five.
Timothy Peters finished fourth.