Erik Jones To Pilot Second Car For Furniture Row Racing In 2017by Hunter Thomas August 7, 2016 0 comments
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – On Sunday just prior to the Cheez-It 350 at Watkins Glen International, Furniture Row Racing announced that Erik Jones will pilot the No. 77 Toyota Camry full-time during the 2017 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Furniture Row Racing, the only team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series that’s based on the west side of the Mississippi River was founded in 2005. The first full season for the Colorado-based team didn’t come until 2008 with driver, Kenny Wallace starting one race and Joe Nemechek piloting the car for 31 races. Out of the 36 events that season, the team only qualified for 32 races. Furniture Row Racing competed part-time in 2009 before returning full-time with Regan Smith in 2010.
“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,” said Furniture Row Racing team owner, Barney Visser.
Regan Smith won the prestigious Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, earning the team’s first victory. Since then, Martin Truex Jr. has won twice. He won at Pocono Raceway last year and then the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway this season.
In 2016, Furniture Row Racing switched from Chevrolets to Toyotas with a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. With the team making the Championship 4 last year, Martin Truex Jr. is well on his way to making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup again this season. He currently sits eighth in the championship standings, and on Friday, he announced a two-year contract extension with Furniture Row Racing. With the recent success, the team has decided to expand its fleet and hire Joe Gibbs Racing’s development driver, Erik Jones.
“Yeah, obviously everybody is really excited about this,” Truex Jr. said. “We’ve heard Barney (Visser, team owner) and Joe (Garone, team president) talk for the last few years really about expanding someday and wanting to get bigger and wanting to grow. So obviously a huge day for those guys. Just really excited to be a part of that.
“I know a lot of things had to come together. Toyota and the JGR alliance, all those things have been wonderful for us. Now I feel like those things all coming together, allowing us to do a second car, kind of helps keep those relationships strong, helps us build those for the future, and really I think bodes well for the future of Furniture Row Racing.”
Jones’ No. 77 Toyota Camry will feature 5-hour ENERGY as the primary sponsor for 22 races in 2017. 5-hour ENERGY was initially rumored to be heading to Stewart-Haas Racing with Clint Bowyer next year. In 2017, Jones will compete for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors as well.
“Well, they came to us and presented the program for Erik,” said Rise Meguiar, vice president of Living Essentials. “I’ve been watching Erik and seen his talent in both series. We have watched what Furniture Row has done with the car that they have. We just felt that it was going to be a good place for us to be. It was just a really good fit.”
After Jones beat Kyle Busch in the 2012 Snowball Derby at 5 Flags Speedway, he quickly made his way through the ranks in NASCAR’s national series. In 2013 during his debut season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, he captured his first win in only his fifth start with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Last year, he won the series championship. In 41 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts, Jones has amassed seven wins, seven poles, 19 top-five and 34 top-10 finishes.
“It was less than four years ago that Erik Jones famously now beat Kyle Busch in the Snowball Derby super late model race,” said president for Toyota Racing Development USA, David Wilson. “Last year Erik won his first NASCAR championship with Kyle Busch Motorsports. This year obviously Erik is fighting for an XFINITY Series championship with Joe Gibbs Racing.”
Jones made his debut in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2014, but his first win didn’t come until the next season during his ninth start. At Texas Motor Speedway in April of 2015, Jones started on the pole and won his first race in the series. The 2016 season marks his first full effort in the series, and so far this year, he already has three wins, six poles, 11 top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in the first 20 races.
“Watching Erik progress through the ranks of NASCAR has already been an incredible journey,” said Ed Laukes, vice president for marketing, media, incentives, motorsports, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. “Erik is a true talent who has proven his abilities on the track as a champion and a race winner, but also off the track as an ambassador for Toyota, his sponsors and his team.”
Last year during Bristol Motor Speedway’s April weekend, Jones got his first laps in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car while subbing for Denny Hamlin, who was having neck spasms. Hamlin got credit for the effort, but it was Jones, who piloted the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry to a 26th place finish.
“I think Erik ascending to the Cup level, for Toyota, this is the first time a Toyota driver has grown from the grassroots ranks all the way through NASCAR’s national series,” Wilson said. “I think it’s a great story for Toyota, but probably a greater story for NASCAR and the future of our sport.”
Jones’ first official start in NASCAR’s top series came at Kansas Speedway in May of 2015. He subbed for Kyle Busch, who was injured. Jones had a great run going in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 M&M’s/Red Nose Day Toyota Camry, until he got loose and crashed while exiting Turn 4, resulting in a 40th place finish. The Byron, Michigan native had two more starts in the series during the 2015 season. While filling in for Matt Kenseth, who was on suspension, Jones piloted the No. 20 Toyota Camry to a 12th place finish at Texas Motor Speedway and a 19th place finish at Phoenix International Raceway.
“It was a big learning curve for me doing those few Cup races,” Jones said. “The one thing was, obviously it’s a totally different aero package from then to what I’m going to be driving there next year. 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. 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 add, learning that, 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. Like I said, I’ve been working on some this year.”
With the No. 77 team being an addition to the Furniture Row Racing stable, they’re going to need to acquire a charter to guarantee a start in each championship point event. On Sunday at Watkins Glen International, Visser spoke about where they were in that process.
“There’s several charters out there that we’re hearing are available,” Visser said. “We’ve been looking at it some. We’re not exactly sure where we’re going to be on that. We are going to get a charter, but we’re not sure who we’re going to get it from yet.”
As for who will be atop the pit box calling the shots as crew chief, that decision has yet to be made. President of Furniture Row Racing, Joe Garone mentioned that the team is currently searching for an individual to lead the team, but they wanted to announce Jones and the second team first.
“It’s early,” Garone said. “We’re certainly looking to see what the best fits would be in starting that process. There’s a lot of those kinds of things ahead of us. We’ll start tackling that after this announcement.”
Photo Credit: CIA Photography