Brandon Jones wins Pocono Truck thriller
In a two-lap shootout to end Sunday morning’s NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Pocono Raceway, Brandon Jones pulled through on the restart to take the checkered flag after a close battle with Sheldon Creed for the final lead.
Creed ended up crossing third, as Austin Hill slipped by for a second-place run. Todd Gilliland was fourth, and Ben Rhodes was fifth. Ross Chastain, Brett Moffitt, Stewart Friesen, Tyler Ankrum and Derek Kraus completed the top 10 in the Pocono Organics 150 to benefit Farm Aid.
Jones is a full-time driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, which means Grant Enfinger remains the only Gander Truck Series regular with a win.
The first stage, which was only 15 laps, was full of wrecks and even saw two red flags. Matt Crafton and Codie Rohrbaugh collided on the first lap in Turn 1, ending their days before they really even started. Then, Austin Wayne Self and Raphael Lessard got into each other on Lap 7, and the damage drew the first red flag for eight minutes and 19 seconds. Finally, Enfinger and Ty Majeski tangled on Lap 13 to bring out another red flag, this time for seven minutes and 13 seconds.
Christian Eckes was leading with 11 laps to go, but a blown right-rear tire sent him spinning into the wall and ended his run right then and there.
BRANDON JONES, No. 51 DuPont Air Filtration/Menards Toyota Tundra, Kyle Busch Motorsports
Finishing Position: 1st
Talk about the battle with your teammate and with Sheldon Creed in the closing laps.
“First off, everyone that makes this possible for me to come and play in this Truck Series – when I first started racing in my life, I saw the 51 late model and said I wanted to race with Kyle Busch Motorsports one day and win races. We finally did it. We’ve been close in the past. Menards was on our Tundra, Dupont and those guys do so much for us in our sport. That was a heck of a battle and I know it was fun to watch on TV. It was really fun for me there. Got a heck of a push there from the 38 (Todd Gilliland), that was really fun. All in all, great day and I’m pretty pumped. Got another one too so maybe we can get it done.”
What is the pressure like from Kyle Busch knowing the expectation is to get in this truck and win?
“It’s not really that much pressure honestly. I think there’s so much that he (Kyle Busch) provides for us. We were all on a call with him last night after the Cup race and he gave us so much information that led to this in today. It’s a group effort and I can’t do it by myself, I have to have all that stuff to tie the pieces in.”
How concerned were you in the closing laps and could you have caught Eckes had he not wrecked?
“Christian (Eckes), he was better in the tunnel (turn) than me I think. My one and my three were just lights out different so I was working so hard to get clean air, that’s kind of what I felt I was struggling with, I just needed some clean air on my nose to be good through the tunnel. That was the thing holding me back, but I was getting big runs. He was getting out in front of me from that and then I would really run up to him. Misfortunate that happened to him. Would have been fun to race for the win with a teammate, but at the end it was just a game of cat and mouse to see whose going to lift first down in turn one. The 38 (Todd Gilliland) gave us a heck of a push. We were talking to him there a little bit before that restart trying to get him to push better. I think he had the rear tires lifted off the ground coming to the restart zone so he did his job there and got me out front. Then me and the 16 (Austin Hill), we were just playing, who was going to lift first and we both drove down in the corner pretty deep. The outside just had so much more momentum all day long. The PJ1 was definitely a different way to race this race track. There were a lot of differennces for me coming here this time with running up through that middle lane. I always do good when we have the PJ1, same thing that was at Phoenix when we won the Xfinity race. I was happy to see that they added that.”
What does it mean to win in the Truck Series?
“This is big. That was the only thing I was missing and now that everything I’ve raced in, I’ve got at least one win in. Pretty big, really is. It means so much for me. When I was 13 years old racing in short tracks, the 51 was at the race track every week in super late models and I knew one day that was what I wanted to be doing was racing with Kyle Busch and now I’m here winning races with him.”
What were the restarts like from your vantage point?
“They were a little different. With the compound up there, definitely played a big change with the way we attacked our restarts. You really wanted to be on that top lane, it didn’t really matter what position you were in, you really needed that momentum up there. The trucks don’t have the power or the RPM to get you out of that hole so you really have to just carry as much momentum as possible and the top lane just had the momentum and it’s where you needed to be. A few times I would get the top going good on the restart and then I would bail on it trying to protect and play defense when I shouldn’t have been, it was hurting me a little bit. I got off that and just stayed committed to that top line at least for that first lap until I got cleared.”
How much confidence do you have going into the Xfinity race?
“This is big for me. There are going to be a lot of differences here today. There’s going to be differences in lines and things like that. I don’t think you’ll see as many caution flags as you saw today, but this definitely helps. I know now what the PJ1 does, at least to the tire. I know kind of where you want to start and where you want to be ending. All of that stuff is a big help. I expect our Xfinity car to be really fast so I’m looking forward to seeing how different it is when we jump in the Xfinity car here in a little bit.”
AUSTIN HILL, No. 16 Toyota Tsusho Toyota Tundra, Hattori Racing Enterprises
Finishing Position: 2nd
What was the battle like at the end of the race?
“Our Toyota Tsusho Tundra was really fast today. We stayed up front all day. Clean air was really big. During that run that we finally had, we had so many caution laps that during that first pit stop I didn’t really know exactly what to tell the guys I needed. I knew I was on the tight side so I said hey if anything, let’s loosen it up some. We just didn’t free it up enough, we should have taken a big swing at it because once we had that little bit of a long run there when we were running third, it just got way too tight. Clicked off a few good laps there early in the race when I actually started catching the 51 (Brandon Jones) and the 18 (Christian Eckes) a little bit and then all of the sudden it was just like a light switch and it got really tight on us. That’s kind of what the difference was, that last restart, got a really good push and got through (turn) one good and was battling with the 51 and the 2 (Sheldon Creed) got to the middle of us. When I went through the tunnel turn, I was just way too tight. Just could not get it turning and I had to lift to stay off the 2 to keep from wrecking all of us. It’s frustrating finishing second, but I guess when you’re frustrated finishing second then the wins will come. It just shows that my guys are the best in the garage and they know what they’re doing and they’re really good at dialing these trucks in with no practice.”
What is the consistency showing with this team this season?
“Just that everybody at HRE (Hattori Racing Enterprises), they’re just really good ta making these trucks unload really good and really fast. Without practice and I’ve said it before, I wasn’t worried at all when everybody told me that we were going to this different format and we were just going straight to racing. I actually thought that we had a little bit of an edge on the rest of the field because every time we unloaded at certain race tracks, we’re just fast right off the bat. Our Toyota Tundra was really fast today. We just fought tight really all day long. Early in that run, stage one and two, we didn’t have enough green flag laps to really feel out exactly what the truck was doing. I think if we could have had a little longer of a run, I could have maybe been a little more vocal to Scott (Zipadelli, crew chief) and everybody on how tight the truck actually was. We made a small adjustment and it fired off pretty good and then that long run that we had, it just showed that our truck was just too tight and there at the end with the green-white-checkered, we were just too tight. It was hard for us to make any moves being that tight. I would get on the bottom of somebody and I had to lift. We’re just showing consistency right now and these consistent runs will turn into wins here soon, I hope. It’s frustrating when you finish second and know that you should be in victory lane by now at this part of the season. We just have to keep digging and have to go back to the drawing board and be just a little better to go win these races.”
Do you think you could have gotten past the 51 if the 2 hadn’t shot up the middle of you both?
“I think it would have been really hard, but I think it would have made my entry into the tunnel turn a loot better. I didn’t really have a good angle going into the tunnel turn being on the bottom of three-wide. I didn’t have the right arc and angle being that tight going through there and essentially just had to lift a little bit and that’s kind of what the difference maker was. As soon as I lifted, they were just able to drive back by me. The 51 (Brandon Jones) was just really good at being able to get his truck turning in the center and being able to get back to throttle and stay in the throttle. We fought really all day, we would get down in there and when it would get to the center, it would just get tight and would never go away until we got back to the straightaway. I just had to wait on the truck too long. I don’t know of really much difference I could have done today with the circumstances and how everything happened. I didn’t want to be put middle of three-wide, just because of how our truck was handling and being on the tight side. I just didn’t want to be put in that predicament and slide up into the 51 or something like that. Everybody at Toyota and TRD, they work their tails off each and every week, we’re just showing that we’re consistent right now. The wins will come. I feel like we should have won by now and we had a shot at winning today, just didn’t play out our way. If we could have restarted from the first posiiton there instead of second, it could have possibly been a different outcome, but who knows.”
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