FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Erik Jones wore a cap and gown so he could pick up his high school diploma on a stage at Texas Motor Speedway a year ago.
Holding his first Xfinity Series trophy in Victory Lane, the 18-year-old’s racing suit was just fine this time.
Jones outran Sprint Cup stars Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on a restart with 25 laps remaining Friday night, winning by 1.6 seconds in his ninth career Xfinity start.
The four-time winner in the Camping World Truck Series, where Jones races full time, turned away a strong bid from Keselowski on the restart after earlier battling Earnhardt.
Jones even bumped the popular driver from behind, eventually getting past Earnhardt before a crash brought out the caution flag and led to the duel with Keselowski, who has 32 career Xfinity wins.
“I don’t know what to say right now. It’s surreal,” Jones said. “We beat Cup guys tonight. That’s huge for us.”
Keselowski was second, and Earnhardt third, with both getting quick questions after the race about Jones in the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
A year earlier, Jones ran a truck race in Texas rather than attend his high school graduation in Michigan, and track president Eddie Gossage presented him his diploma during introductions.
Jones, who became the youngest winner in the truck series when he was 17 at Phoenix in 2013, is the second-youngest Xfinity winner at Texas at 18 years, 10 months. Chase Elliott won last spring’s race at 18 years, 4 months.
“I knew he was good,” Earnhardt said. “Now everybody else knows.”
The win also was a first for Jones’ crew chief, Michael Wheeler, a former engineer for Denny Hamlin in the Cup series.
Jones acknowledged after the race that he was frustrated with Earnhardt as he tried to get around him with about 50 laps to go, figuring the veteran was trying to teach him a little patience.
“I hope he had fun,” Jones said. “I knew we had a blast. Just racing hard with those guys. They’ve been doing it so long. They know exactly what they’re doing. I’m just trying to figure it out.”
Gibbs says he’s figuring it out fast, saying after the race there’s no question Jones is well on his way to NASCAR’s top series.
“We know Erik is on a fast track,” Gibbs said. “It’s just a matter of when.”
Elliott finished eighth, and Xfinity points leader Ty Dillon was 12th.
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