Jones close to giving Kyle Busch Motorsports a championship
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Erik Jones started this year as one of the most promising rookies on NASCAR's national level.
With one more clean race, he can end the season with his first championship.
Jones will try to close out the Truck Series championship on Friday night in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he needs to finish 15th or better to clinch. Should he succeed, he would give Kyle Busch Motorsports its first driver championship.
Jones was part of the two-driver lineup with Busch last year that won KBM the Truck Series owner championship. It was Busch's third win as an owner, but he's never had a driver win the title for the organization.
"Obviously, I want to win the championship, but Kyle's wanted a driver's championship since he started his program in the Truck Series and hasn't been able to get it yet," Jones said. "If I could bring that back for him, you know, that'd kind of be just a nice 'thank you' for the last three years and what he's done for me over those three years."
It's been a wild three years for the 19-year-old Jones, considered a nobody in the racing world when he showed up for the first time in 2012 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, for the annual Snowball Derby.
The event has always been one of Busch's favorites and its storied history has made it one of the more coveted trophies in racing.
When a then-16-year-old Jones used a last-second pass to beat Busch, the NASCAR star was convinced he wanted him at KBM.
Jones made five starts in Busch's truck in 2013 and earned his first career national series victory with a win at Phoenix. He added three more wins for Busch last year as the two teamed to win the owner's title, and he got three starts in a Joe Gibbs Racing car in the Xfinity Series.
But this has been his breakout year. Jones has three wins and a 19-point lead over Tyler Reddick with the final trucks race remaining. He added a pair of wins for Gibbs in the Xfinity car and also got three coveted Sprint Cup Series races. He was a mid-race replacement for Denny Hamlin at Bristol when Hamlin injured his neck, and he raced the last two weeks for suspended driver Matt Kenseth.
Busch is now excited to watch Jones close out the year and potentially give KBM another title.
"We knew that we had a great opportunity to go for a championship this year," Busch said. "It has worked out so far and we have one more week to see that come to fruition and celebrate our first driver and owner championship together, and being able to be the only truck team on stage at the banquet.
"The pressure is off of me, it's on Erik. It's fun to see our, mine and Samantha's (Busch, wife), organization run like that and compete for championships and to ultimately score our first driver's championship this week would be pretty special."
ANDRETTI-MUNOZ: Andretti Autosport will bring Carlos Munoz back next season in a three-car lineup that includes Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
It will be the third consecutive season for Munoz driving for Andretti in the IndyCar Series.
"I'm really happy to be able to return for another year," Munoz said. "The 2016 schedule looks really nice and we hope to fight for an Indy 500 win and a championship."
Munoz was the 2013 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year when he started on the front row. He finished second in his Indy 500 debut, and he scored his first career victory last year with a win at Belle Isle.
"Carlos has been part of the Andretti family of drivers for several years now," team owner Michael Andretti said. "We're really pleased with his growth as a driver and look forward to a competitive 2016."
LE MANS-TAYLORS: Ricky Taylor will join younger brother, Jordan, in the Corvette Racing lineup for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It will be Ricky Taylor's first time at Le Mans with Corvette. Jordan Taylor will be returning with the team for the fifth time.
The brothers will join Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in the two-car Corvette effort. Corvette Racing is the defending race winner in the GTE Pro class and Jordan Taylor was part of the winning entry along with Gavin and Milner.
"The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a key part of Corvette Racing's schedule," said Mark Kent, director of Chevrolet Racing. "Racing against the best teams, drivers and manufacturers in the world on the demanding 8.47-mile circuit is something that we look forward to each year. It allows us to demonstrate, on a global stage, the performance, reliability and efficiency of the Chevrolet Corvette.
"We hope that the addition of Ricky and the return of Jordan help us achieve our goal of a ninth class victory."
In addition to the victory in June, Jordan Taylor finished second with Garcia and Magnussen in 2014.
Ricky Taylor will be making his third start in the race and last competed there in 2014.
The Taylors have raced together the last two years in Wayne Taylor Racing's No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette Daytona Prototype. They have played key roles in the development of the Corvette DP and won four races the past two years in the United SportsCar Championship.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press