With Kenseth Going, Along Comes Jones at JGR

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 12 2017

Erik Jones will replace former Cup champion Matt Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Joe Gibbs Racing has selected Erik Jones of Furniture Row Racing to replace Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 Toyota Camry beginning with the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

Currently competing full-time for Barney Visser’s Furniture Row Racing, Jones sits 14th in Cup points and leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. Jones made his Cup Series debut in 2015 filling in for the injured Kyle Busch of JGR at Kansas Speedway, where he led one lap before a mid-race accident ended his day. In 21 Cup Series career starts, Jones has led 32 laps and earned one top-five finish and five top-10 results.

“This is a really exciting time in my career for me to make the move back to Joe Gibbs Racing fulltime in the Cup Series and continue to have the success I’ve had with them over the last few years,” Jones said in a statement. “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 No. 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.”

Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion in a Ford fielded by Roush Fenway Racing, announced last Friday at Kentucky Speedway he will not return to JGR and is without a fulltime ride for 2018. Kenseth currently is winless this season, but 11th in points.

“Matt has been a tremendous asset to our organization over the past five seasons both on and off the track,”  team-owner Joe Gibbs said in a statement from Huntersville, N.C. “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 No. 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 No. 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 is paired with Martin Truex Jr. at Furniture Row Racing, which is based in Denver, Colo.  Visser issued this statement Tuesday:

“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.”

Truex, who scored his third Cup win of the season Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, trails Kyle Larson and the No. 42 Chevrolet SS fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing by one point (710-709) in the championship standings after 18 events.

In addition to his strong start in Cup, Jones has enjoyed success in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) and NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS). Jones, who made his NCWTS debut in 2013 at Martinsville Speedway, earned his first-career victory at Phoenix International Raceway in his fifth start. Jones competed fulltime in the series in 2015. With three wins, 11 top-fives, 20 top-10s, five poles and 925 laps-led, Jones finished that season as Sunoco Rookie of the Year and youngest Truck Series champion at the age of 19 years, 5 months and 21 days.

Jones made his Xfinity Series debut at Chicagoland Speedway in 2014 and earned his first win in 2015 at Texas Motor Speedway in his eighth start. Joining the Xfinity Series fulltime in 2016, Jones earned the Rookie of the Year title and made it to the final round of the Championship battle at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He finished fourth in the standings via four wins, 15 top-fives, 20 top-10s, nine poles and 627 laps-led.

Jones also holds the distinction of being the youngest driver to complete “triple duty” _ a feat he accomplished in November 2015 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, where he won the NCWTS race, finished fourth in the Xfinity Series event and placed 12th in the Cup race.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 12 2017
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