Jones Career Comes Full Circle with Return to Toyota Racing

By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The homecoming to Toyota Racing Development (TRD) for Erik Jones was almost like he had never left.

After starting his career with Toyota and rising through the ranks to the NASCAR Cup Series, Jones moved to Chevrolet for three seasons. In 2024 LEGACY Motor Club’s transition to TRD brings the Byron, MI native full circle. The team co-owned by seven-time NASCAR Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Jimmie Johnson made the move following the completion of the 2023 season.

Though the only race of the 2024 season has been the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race, Jones has found that not much has changed at TRD. The former Joe Gibbs Racing driver sees a lot of the same people and procedures at Toyota Racing that he saw prior to leaving. The main difference between his first tenure with the NASCAR OEM and this tenure is that LEGACY is smaller and is changing manufacturers. That change leaves the team building out new departments as well.

“I think (there was) a lot of familiarity (in my homecoming to Toyota),” Jones said. “A lot of the same people in the same places. The processes are very similar. When I was with them last time, I was with a different group and a much bigger team. We’ve been expanding like crazy, and we’ve added a lot of people, which we needed to do – which has been good, but we have been in a race against the clock.

“As soon as the season ended, and changing the cars over, building out different departments. We’ve had to somewhat build out an aero department, a tire department, a simulation department – these are all things that when you take away an alliance with a bigger group, you have to take that in house and that doesn’t always fall on the manufacturer.”

Each manufacturer gives varying levels of support to their teams. That support can be the difference between winning and finishing up front of being mired mid-pack. Jones was very appreciative of the amount of support that TRD gives to their teams, including the newly rebodied Toyota’s of LEGACY.

“They give us a ton of support and have given us a ton of support and are doing everything they can to help us hit the ground running, but some of it does fall back on us and that’s the big build right now,” Jones continued.

Those differences and watching the team grow have been a part of the fun for Jones. In the 27-year-old’s career to date, 147 of his 255 Cup starts came in TRD equipment. The driver of the No. 43 Advent Health Toyota Camry XSE didn’t have simulation programs or a tire program when he worked with TRD previously.

Having gone from a blank slate with TRD in recent years, Jones and LEGACY will have to catch up on what they’ve missed. That learning curve will take time, time that Toyota has helped the team shorten in preparation for the 2024 season.

“It hasn’t been a lot (of change since I left and returned to Toyota),” Jones explained. “I guess the only difference is working with a different team and right now a smaller team. So, we came in with some different asks than what I had at JGR. We need different resources and different things from them, especially to get started. Coming off having a blank slate and no real data with TRD from the last few years, (there’s) a lot of stuff we’ve got to learn and figure out.

“Building out simulation programs, tire programs – a lot of that stuff has been a lot of man hours and heavy lifting right off the bat. Toyota has done a good job of helping us facilitate that. That’s the stuff we didn’t have last time I worked with them. We didn’t have to work through that. It’s been fun to see them put in the time for us and help us.”

How much has been learned and what is left to learn will be put to the test in Sunday’s Daytona 500. For Jones, it marks his eighth Daytona 500 and fifth in a Toyota.

The Daytona 500 is scheduled for Sunday, February 18, at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX. The race will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *