Being set to contend for a NASCAR XFINITY Series title in 2016, reigning Camping World Truck Series champion Erik Jones plans on having a year less chaotic than 2015. After running full-time in the Truck Series, the two-time XFINITY Series winner will be piloting the No. 20 Toyota.
Last year, Jones made a splash in NASCAR’s premier division. However, plans to bring him back in a fifth car part-time for Joe Gibbs Racing are on hold as of now.
“I think there is a plan in place, but I am 100 percent confident with what Joe [Gibbs, team owner] and everybody else has put in place for me,” Jones said during the annual Media Tour on Tuesday. “I’m excited to see where it goes. We have a big year ahead of us in 2016 with trying to get the XFINITY championship.
“I won’t be [running a fifth Cup car for Gibbs] this year. It was talked about, but ended up — before the season started — we kind of knocked that out of the picture. It is really hard to run a fifth team in the Cup Series without having those full-time guys. It’s OK, but I would like to have that experience. I got some experience in the Cup Series last year, but we’ll see.”
Jones ran a handful of Cup events in 2015, beginning with replacing the injured Kyle Busch at Kansas in May. He also filled in for Matt Kenseth when the 2003 champion was suspended for two races at Texas and Phoenix. In his three events, his best finish was 12th at Texas.
With Joe Gibbs Racing creating an alliance with Furniture Row Racing, the team has openly speculated about starting a second car as a teammate to Martin Truex, Jr. On Tuesday, the organization announced that Truex will have Bass Pro Shops join the No. 78 team for nine races as a primary sponsor in 2016.
The adding funding from Bass Pro Shops, along with any potential sponsorship that Jones can bring to the team, could lead to running a second part-time car for Furniture Row Racing. If he were to race for JGR in the Cup Series, he would be limited to seven events since NASCAR limits a four-car team to run a rookie in a fifth car for that period of time.
“Is there an opportunity for something like that to happen? I think that is certainly true,” Joe Garone, general manager of Furniture Row Racing said. “There isn’t necessarily a plan in place for that [a second part-time car], but if you look at the capacity we have to expand to multiple cars, I can certainly see something like that in our future. Were not anywhere where I can say were going to do that yet. What I can say is that we’re going to do the things we need to do to be in position to do that. A couple months into this season, we will start working on that plan as it comes together.”
Jones won three races in the Truck Series in 2015 en route to his first NASCAR title. Earning an average finish of 6.3, he had the best average result of a champion in the sport’s third-tier division since Todd Bodine’s mark of 6.4 in 2010.