By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Erik Jones and Furniture Row Racing made it official on Sunday morning at Watkins Glen International.
In 2017, Furniture Row Racing will expand from one car to two, with Jones driving the No. 77 Toyota under sponsorship from 5-hour Energy.
The addition of Jones brings to six the number of full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams receiving comprehensive factory support from Toyota Racing Development (TRD). A native of Byron, Michigan, Jones, 20, will team with veteran Martin Truex Jr., who qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last year and reached the Championship 4 in the No. 78 Furniture Row Camry.
Jones’ only Sprint Cup experience consists of three races last season in a fill-in role for Kyle Busch, who missed the first 11 events because of injury. Jones’ best finish was a 12th at Texas Motor Speedway, and the speed he showed as a relief driver is a source of confidence as he ascends to the Sprint Cup series.
“I don’t think at any point in your career that you’re totally ready to make that move,” said Jones, who has a one-year deal with Furniture Row and primary sponsorship from 5-hour Energy for 22 races. “Last year, I think I learned a lot in the few starts that I made. At the end of the day, I’m as ready as I can be. At the end of the day, you’ve got to make that jump and you’re going to sink or swim. I think I’m in the best situation to hopefully swim and be successful at it.
“There’s going to be a lot to learn for sure. There’s going to be some ups and downs throughout the year but I think at the end of it all, we’re going to be in a good position. We’ll have speed added and hopefully, we’ll be competitive throughout the year.”
Jones’ rise to the highest level of stock car racing has been meteoric. In 2012, as a 16-year-old, he beat 2015 Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch in the Snowball Derby, a marquee event for Super Late Models in Pensacola, Florida. Busch subsequently hired Jones to drive a NASCAR Camping World Truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Last year, Jones won the Truck Series championship and moved up to a full-time ride in the NASCAR XFINITY Series this season with Joe Gibbs Racing, which maintains a technical partnership with Furniture Row on the Cup level.
With three XFINITY victories this season, Jones is the only series regular with multiple wins. Jones is a graduate of the prestigious NASCAR Next program, an initiative to spotlight the sport’s future stars.
“Three different teams in three consecutive years,” mused TRD USA President David Wilson. “Toyota is the fortunate and grateful common denominator in that equation. But the underlying point is we wouldn’t be sitting up here today were it not for the tremendous partnership that Toyota enjoys with our partners Kyle Busch Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Furniture Row Racing.
“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. I think it’s a great story for Toyota, but probably a greater story for NASCAR and the future of our sport.”
The Jones announcement was the culmination of a heavy news weekend for Furniture Row, which on Thursday announced the re-signing of Truex to a two-year deal. For his part, Truex expects the addition of his new teammate to enhance the stature of Furniture Row.
“I know a lot of things had to come together,” Truex said. “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.
“Looking forward to that. Hopefully, it’s something I’ll be able to be a part of for a long, long time. Excited to work with Erik. Obviously, a great talent, has all the right people behind him to be successful in this sport. Look forward to hopefully teaching him a thing or two along the way.”