By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
In news that had been expected since Matt Kenseth announced he would not be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing last week, the organization announced on Tuesday that Erik Jones would be returning in 2018 to take over the No. 20 Toyota that Kenseth currently drives.
“Matt (Kenseth) has been a tremendous asset to our organization over the past five seasons both on and off the track,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. “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 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 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 currently drives for Furniture Row Racing, where he had a one year contract for his 2017 rookie season and through the first 18 races of the year has one top-five finish, five top-10 finishes, 31 laps led, and an average finish of 17.2. The Michigan native currently sits 14th in points and leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Standings.
From the start of his career, Jones has been a product of the Toyota driver development program, scoring three wins and the championship in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2015, as well as four wins, Rookie of the Year honors, and a fourth place points finish in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JGR last season.
“This is a really exciting time in my career for me to make the move back to Joe Gibbs Racing full time in the Cup Series and continue to have the success I’ve had with them over the last few years,” said Jones. “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 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.”
Other than the news that Jones is back in the JGR fold, no announcement was made on his sponsor, crew chief, etc. for next season. At Furniture Row, Jones has 5-Hour Energy as his sponsor for 22 of the 36 race schedule.
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