By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the top-30 drivers in the series leading into next month’s 60th running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: One
Career Wins: Nine Xfinity Series wins and seven Truck Series wins
Biggest Accomplishment: 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion
A year after making his full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut with Furniture Row Racing, Erik Jones is headed home to Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 20 car for 2018.
His first year in NASCAR’s top division was a rollercoaster of a ride, with five top-five finishes, 14 top-10 finishes, one pole (Bristol), and 310 laps led, but also having eight DNF’s, all of which were a result of crashes. Jones never broke into the top-10 in points, climbing as high as 12th before eventually missing the playoffs and finishing the year with a 19th place points finish.
Despite the disappointing finish to the season, Jones still walked away with the Rookie of the Year title, beating out Daniel Suarez for the honors.
“It was a good year overall,” said Jones at the conclusion of the 2017 season. “You know we had a lot of good races and a lot of good things that we can look back on and be really proud of. I think back to the races we were in contention to win and shots we had – and it’s just nice in your rookie season to have that chance to win races. Wasn’t the night we wanted tonight, but definitely cool to at least get the accumulation of the year of being the best rookie.
“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.”
Looking ahead to 2018, Jones takes over for Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 car and will have a familiar voice on top of the pit box as crew chief Chris Gayle will join him at JGR for his sophomore season. Jones will also have a handful of sponsors to adorn the side of his Toyota Camry this season, with DEWALT, Reser’s Fine Foods, Sport Clips Haircuts, and Circle K all coming on board.
With the move back to the mothership for this season, Jones should be in prime position to contend for race wins on a more consistent basis, and should be able to contend for a playoff berth fairly easily, given the dominance of Toyota and JGR over the past couple of years. At this point, it’s not a matter of if Jones will win in the Cup Series; it’s a matter of when.
“It’s really special for me,” Jones said of driving the No. 20 car this season. “I mean, I can remember growing up and watching the 20 car with Tony Stewart specifically when I was really young watching NASCAR, and then on to Joey (Logano) and then on to Matt (Kenseth), and you know, to be the next guy in that role is obviously pretty neat for me. Joe Gibbs Racing is one of the best organizations in NASCAR. I mean, there’s only a few true top teams left in the sport, and JGR is definitely one of them. It’s really cool just to be a part of that organization and that fold and that family, especially in the 20 car. That’s a car that’s had pretty close to the most history there, them and the 18. So it’s just cool to try to continue that legacy and hopefully build my own role in that seat.
“There were a lot of unknowns last year at this point for myself, at least, going into a new series with a new team, a new group of guys. It was just a lot of things that were really unsettled and weren’t really all figured out yet. At least having everybody in place, knowing Chris (Gayle) and knowing the Cup Series one year better than I did last is definitely an advantage. I have a better feel for the cars and everything to expect there and what’s going to be week in and week out and how the season kind of rolls and progresses. We’ll see how it all goes, but I’m definitely at a more comfortable point with the Cup Series than I was a year ago.”