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Erik Jones Takes A Seat On Furniture Row

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 7 2016
Erik Jones will join Martin Truex Jr. as drivers of Furniture Row Racing Toyotas.

Erik Jones will join Martin Truex Jr. as drivers of Furniture Row Racing Toyotas.

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Erik Jones’ journey from grassroots racer to NASCAR rising star took its final step Sunday at Watkins Glen International, where the 20-year-old prodigy officially was introduced as the second Sprint Cup Series driver for Furniture Row Racing.

Jones will contest the full 36-race Cup schedule in 2017 in the No. 77 Toyota Camry with primary sponsorship from 5-hour ENERGY for 22 events in search of Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.

“I just can’t believe this is really happening,” said Jones, a native of Byron, Mich. “We’ve been talking about Cup racing for a while, but to actually make the announcement is surreal. This is every young driver’s dream, to be with a manufacturer like Toyota, an organization like Furniture Row Racing with its successful technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and an incredible sponsor like 5-hour ENERGY. They’ve given me a life-changing opportunity and my mission is to make each of them proud.”

Jones’ rise through NASCAR’s three national touring series has been meteoric. Jones won the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in 2015 for Kyle Busch Motorsports and currently is competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JGR. Jones has scored three wins in that series this season.

Jones will be teamed with Martin Truex Jr., who inked a two-year agreement Thursday to continue with the team owned by Barney Visser beginning with the 2017 season. Truex’s No. 78 Camry will carry the colors of Farmington Hills, Mich.-based 5-hour ENERGY for two races next season, including the NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Truex already has clinched a Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoff berth for the third time in four years, adding to the in-house push to expand the brand and quiet the endless rumor mill.

“It can stop now,” said Visser, whose team located in Denver, Colo., is thriving well outside of NASCAR’s Charlotte/Concord, N.C.-based corridor. “We’re very excited to have all the components of a second race team pulled together here.  It’s all come together in the last month.

“Today has been a long-time coming for Furniture Row Racing. Since we started our NASCAR journey 11 years ago it was our goal as a single-car team to reach a competitive level that would allow us to be in position to win races and compete for championships. With the success the team has shown on the track we feel now is a good time to add a second team. We are thrilled to say we have secured what we feel is the right mix of a driver, sponsor and manufacturer to support a second-car effort.”

Visser said Jones is under contract for one year.  “We hope to make that many more,” Visser said. “So we hope to run him as long as we can.  We’ll see what he gets done out there.”

Jones’ impending move to Cup marks the first time a Toyota developmental driver has graduated from the local stock car ranks into NASCAR’s premier series.

“Obviously, Toyota and TRD are very happy for Erik and for our partners at Furniture Row Racing,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development USA. “I think a day like today, you have to put in perspective.  Think about this _ it was less than four years ago that Erik Jones famously now beat Kyle Busch in the Snowball Derby Super Late Model race.  Last year Erik won his first NASCAR championship with Kyle Busch Motorsports.  This year Erik is fighting for an Xfinity Series championship with Joe Gibbs Racing.

“So next year for him to ascend to the Cup Series with Furniture Row Racing is a spectacular story.  Three different teams in three consecutive years.  Toyota is the fortunate and grateful common denominator in that equation. But the underlying point is we wouldn’t be sitting up here today were it not for the tremendous partnership that Toyota enjoys with Kyle Busch Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Furniture Row Racing. I think Erik ascending to the Cup level…it’s a great story for Toyota but probably a greater story for NASCAR and the future of our sport.”

Joe Garone, president of FRR, said the organization is anxious to get its second team up-and-running. “It certainly increases the workload, that’s for sure,” Garone said. “We’ve already started modifying our shop to accommodate the extra cars and extra work, starting to talk to the workforce, looking at personnel, potential new hires. We’re just really excited about it. But we wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for the performance Martin has put on the racetrack.”

Visser said FRR’s shop “can easily handle” two cars.  “We think we’re going to be more efficient per car running two cars.  But that all remains to be seen,” Visser said.

Truex figures to benefit from the data Jones and his car will add to his corporate teammates at JGR. “Yeah, obviously everybody is really excited about this,” said Truex, who qualified 14th for Sunday’s 31st annual Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. “We’ve heard Barney and Joe talk for the last few years really about expanding some day and wanting to get bigger and wanting to grow.  So obviously a huge day for those guys.  Hopefully it’s something I’ll be able to be a part of for a long, long time.

“Excited to work with Erik.  Obviously a great talent, has all the right people behind him to be successful in this sport.  Look forward to hopefully teaching him a thing or two along the way.”

Jones, who filled-in for an injured Kyle Busch in a handful of Cup races last year, acknowledged he faces a steep learning curve beginning with Toyota’s Cup aero package.

“I always felt we had decent speed but a lot of it was putting the whole race together and all the little things, what you would call special teams, I guess,” Jones said. “Green flag stops, making sure you’re hitting all those things right was the hardest part for me. It’s going to be a lot of getting better at that stuff.  That’s things I’ve been trying to work on to try to get better this year.  But there’s a lot of things I can take from those few races that I’m going to be able to work on some more.

“It’s a big jump.  You’re going from a field from where 10-to-12 cars can win to a field where 20 cars can win.  All those guys are extremely talented.  Definitely going to be tough.  But I think I’m definitely in a good situation to succeed.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 7 2016
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