Erik Jones Goes To Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 in 2018

Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' the Tires

By Jerry Jordan, Editor
No sooner than the announcement was made last Thursday by Matt Kenseth that he wouldn’t be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2018, did speculation begin about whether Erik Jones, who was on loan to Furniture Row Racing, would transition back to JGR. That question has now been answered as Jones is slated to drive the No. 20 Toyota, replacing Kenseth next season.

“Matt (Kenseth) has been a tremendous asset to our organization over the past five seasons both on and off the track,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. “He’s been a great teammate and a great ambassador for our sponsors. We have a great deal of respect for him and we are working hard to get the 20 team into the playoffs to make a run for the championship. We have a great deal of confidence in his abilities to do just that.

“At the same time it’s exciting to have Erik back to run fulltime with us starting next season. When a number of circumstances made it clear over the past few weeks that a second year for the 77 car was probably not viable at this time for Erik, we all agreed that we wanted to keep him in the Toyota racing family and felt it was the right time to make this transition. He is an exciting driver that has already proven to have the ability to compete at the highest level of our sport. He is also shown to be a great representative to our partners and we believe he is at the beginning of a long and successful career.”

Jones, who is one of the leaders of NASCAR new guard has had some first-year bad luck but the former Camping World Truck Series Champion has come away from the past two weeks with good runs and is looking at how he can make NASCAR’s post-season playoffs.

As for Furniture Row Racing, they are left to either fill the seat of the No. 77 Toyota – currently sponsored by 5-Hour Energy – or lose the ride and go back to a single-car team. Barney Visser, the team owner of the Denver-based operation, said this past week that he was unsure if there was enough sponsorship to continue the second program.

“Regarding today’s announcement that Erik Jones will drive in the NASCAR Cup Series for Joe Gibbs Racing starting in 2018, Furniture Row Racing’s commitment to Jones and the No. 77 team remains the same for the remainder of the season. Our goal is for Jones to qualify for the playoffs, make a run for the championship and capture Rookie of the Year honors. We are working on our team plans for 2018 but don’t have anything concrete to report at this time except that Martin Truex Jr. will continue to drive the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.”

Furniture Row Racing has been a beacon of hope for the Toyota camp in 2017 as the only team to get a win – three of them – and be locked into the playoffs. All four of the JGR cars have come up short and it is possible that one, or more, of their drivers could miss the post-season.

Jones, who is currently 14th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series point standings, said this past weekend that he was happy at Furniture Row Racing and wasn’t 100-percent sure where he would end up driving. Whether he was playing coy or there had been other deals in the works behind the scenes the decision is now made.

“This is a really exciting time in my career for me to make the move back to Joe Gibbs Racing full time in the Cup Series and continue to have the success I’ve had with them over the last few years,” Jones said. “I will always be grateful for the opportunity given to me by Barney Visser and everyone at Furniture Row Racing this year for my first full year in the Cup Series. I’ve learned a lot this year and I’ve had a great group of guys around me each week to lean on as I figured out my rookie season and how to make my way in the Cup Series. The 77 team, from myself, crew chief Chris Gayle and every crew member, we’ve come a long way since February and we still have a lot to accomplish this season. We’ve hit our stride the last few weeks with strong finishes and while it’s nice to have my plans for 2018 announced, I’m focused on continuing to improve and get this team a win before the season ends.”

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