There will be a new face in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota come next year’s Daytona 500, and his name is Erik Jones.
The 21-year-old Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie will return to Joe Gibbs Racing after a year of competing full-time for Furniture Row Racing. As Jones enters JGR’s Cup lineup, 2003 Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth will officially depart the organization at the end of 2017.
“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 release Tuesday. “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.”
Jones, who pilots the No. 77 car for Furniture Row, has best finish of third this year and five top 10s through 18 events. He sits 14th in the standings and on the playoff grid, he is 52 points behind Kenseth, who holds the 16th and final spot as of now.
Regarding today's announcement – pic.twitter.com/JXjOBqtqPZ
— Erik Jones (@Erik_Jones) July 11, 2017
Kenseth’s official departure from Joe Gibbs Racing comes four days after he told reporters at Kentucky Speedway he did not believe he “will have the option to race for JGR next year, unfortunately,”
“I haven’t really worked on anything real hard [for next year],” Kenseth said. “I don’t really have anything to talk about for what I am doing. At this point, I don’t have anything going on for next year.”
Kenseth joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, winning seven races in his first year with the organization and seven in the three and a half seasons since then. He has three top fives and six top 10s thus far in 2017.
Jones’ departure from Furniture Row Racing leaves the status of the team’s second car up in the air for next year. Furniture Row purchased a charter from Premium Motorsports over the off-season, guaranteeing Jones a spot in the field.
“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,” Barney Visser, owner of Furniture Row Racing, said in a statement. “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.”
5-Hour Energy signed a 22-race deal with Furniture Row Racing at the start of the year and cannot sponsor another team in the Cup Series as part of Monster Energy’s title sponsor agreement with NASCAR. It is unknown at this time if the company will stick with FRR, Truex or another driver in 2018.
If Furniture Row Racing does not run the No. 77 car next year, it will have to lease or sell its charter.
“It’s exciting to have Erik back to run full-time with us starting next season,” Gibbs said. “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.”
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