Last time Erik Jones raced in Texas Motor Speedway, he received his high school diploma.
On Friday, the 18-year-old passed a far heftier test presented by one of NASCAR’s sternest competitors in a surprising victory in the Xfinity Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.
A hard-racing Jones in the No. 20 Toyota overpowered Brad Keselowski and his No. 22 Ford on a restart with 30 laps to go and took off to close out his first career victory at this level in front of an estimated crowd of 64,000.
Jones, in his Xfinity debut at TMS, became the second-youngest winner at TMS, at 18 years, 10 months.
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“Getting here, it’s just amazing,” Jones said. “We beat Cup guys. I never once doubted these guys. I can’t wait for the rest of the year.”
Behind Jones and Keselowski were more Sprint Cup competitors — Dale Earnhardt Jr., Regan Smith and Austin Dillon.
Jones was six months older than the track’s youngest winner, Chase Elliott, who won this race at 18 years, 4 months.
Friday’s final closely resembled last year’s finish in which Elliott, at the time not yet a high school graduate, held off Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
The difference between the two was that Elliott was an Xfinity Series regular, while Jones’ full-time job is in the Camping World Truck Series. Jones is running a full schedule in that series and was only scheduled to run a handful of Xfinity races this year. That workload changed when team owner and driver Kyle Busch broke his leg in the Xfinity race at Daytona in February.
Jones has four career victories on the Truck series.
Because he’s not a full-time driver in the Xfinity Series, Jones isn’t eligible for the series title. Ty Dillon, who finished 12th, maintained his series lead over Prosper native Chris Buescher (ninth) by two points.
Miles before his final faceoff with Keselowski, Jones went mano-y-mano with Earnhardt, whose 25 laps led was more than his seven previous TMS Xfinity runs combined. Earnhardt succumbed by Lap 160 and never threatened again.
“Eventually he cleared me. That was good racing,” Earnhardt said. “I [already] thought he was good. Now everybody else knows.”
Jones, who declined to pit on a caution on Lap 127 and was soon to need tires and fuel, received a break with another caution with 32 laps to go. That allowed him four new tires and fuel.
“I’ve watched him race in the Truck series and he does a good job,” said Keselowski, a past champion who has 11 top-10 finishes in 15 Xfinity races at TMS. “Certainly this is a huge notch in his belt.”