Earlier this month, Erik Jones, took aim, was steady, and fired the famed Winchester Rifle after becoming the victor of the 42nd Annual Winchester 400 at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway. With the victory, the 17-year-old Michigan native joined current boss Kyle Busch as one of six drivers to win both the prestigious Winchester 400 and the Snowball Derby, accomplishing the feat in less than a year
Starting the race from the fourth position, Jones raced inside the top-five for the first 100 laps, then went on to lead on four different occasions for a race-high 131 laps. A caution on lap 350 set up a final round of stops for the ten cars on the lead lap. Jones came down pit road in the third spot and after a flawless pit stop by the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) over-the-wall crew returned to the track at the front of the field and set up a 50-lap shootout against Chase Elliott. Elliott’s charge forward proved futile in the end and Jones rifled to the win.
“This is such a big day for me and this Kyle Busch Motorsports team,” Jones said. “I couldn’t be happier for the opportunity to drive Kyle’s (Busch) late model and to put it in victory lane. Claiming a rifle to put next to my Snowball Derby trophy is just amazing.”
“This race really played out for our strategy,” the talented youngster continued. “Normally it’s a survival race, but that wasn’t the case this year. We were able to just lay low for the first 100 laps and then periodically take the lead in the middle. We were in perfect position when the caution came out for the last 50 laps. I knew Chase was going to be coming hard for us, but we had a great Camry and we were able to keep him behind us.”
The 42nd running of the Winchester 400 kicked off on Friday, Oct. 11 with two practice sessions before qualifying on Saturday night. With a time of 15.427 seconds at a speed of 116 mph, the Byron, Mich. native took the green flag from the fourth position.
An unusual caution-free run lasted until lap 87. As the field slowed, Jones reported he was “happy running the bottom groove” and was told by crew chief Rich Lushes to stay out, moving him up to the second position. When the field was slowed for another caution on lap 112, Lushes kept his young driver on track again, giving Jones the lead for the first time of the day.
Jones held the top spot until the third caution appeared on lap 132. This time being summoned down pit road, the No. 51 Kyle Busch Foundation “Pretty In Pink” Toyota Camry was serviced with two right side tires and fuel. Restarting in the 17th spot, a turnaround yellow which allowed for another stop to replace the left side tires, set Jones up to regain a top-five position by lap 187.
The field slowed three more times before Jones was able to work his way back to the front. Once he did, however, it was undeniable that Jones was behind the wheel of the strongest car on the track. Jones held the lead for 41 more laps before heading to pit road under caution for two more left side tires and fuel. Returning to the track in the second position behind Daniel Hemric, who elected not to pit, Jones regained the lead on the ensuing restart.
As the laps wound down, a few drivers rose to the occasion and tried to contend for the win. Johnny VanDoorn, who had a purse of $100,000 on the line, and Southern Super Series star Augie Grill would trade the lead until the final caution came out with 50 laps remaining. Everyone filed down pit road, with Jones returning to the track first after taking his last set of right side tires and topping off with fuel. When the green flag dropped for the final dash, Jones wasted no time driving away from the field. With only a slight glimpse of Elliott approaching in the rear view mirror, no one stood a chance of taking the victory away from Jones and his KBM team.
The field was slowed ten times for a total of 85 caution laps. A record breaking 14 lead changes took place between six drivers. Only seven cars were able to complete all 400 laps.
Jones is returning to the No. 51 KBM late model on Nov. 2 for the All-American 400 at Nashville (Tenn.) Fairgrounds Speedway.
Erik Jones is our next guest on Fan4Racing Fan2Fan NASCAR-NHRA Talk, on Monday, October 28th, 2013 at 9pm ET. Call 347-996-5176 during the LIVE broadcast to interact with Erik Jones and the Fan4Racing panel.