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Erik Jones: Departure of Carl Edwards ‘not something we saw coming’

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Erik Jones said the surprise news of Carl Edwards leaving Joe Gibbs Racing and not competing in 2017 was “not something that we saw coming” during an interview Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Jones will be a rookie in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season with Furniture Row Racing, which is aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones said the news won’t impact his rookie campaign driving the No. 77 Toyota.

Daniel Suarez, the defending Xfinity Series champion, will replace Edwards in the No. 19 Toyota after initially being slated to run his third Xfinity season. Joe Gibbs Racing will announce the move at a 10 a.m. (ET) press conference Wednesday at the team’s race shop.

Jones, the 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion and the 2016 Xfinity Rookie of the Year, was announced as the driver of the No. 77 Toyota last August.

MORE: Ryan: Carl Edwards departure fits guarded personality

The 20-year-old driver said his rapid ascension to the Cup series, which began in the Truck series at 17, didn’t begin to sink in until a trip to Furniture Row Racing’s shop in Denver, Colorado, a few weeks ago.

“I was walking through the shop and looking at all the cars they were putting together,” Jones said on “SiriusXM Speedway” with Dave Moody. “At the time I was looking at the new body for 2017 that I hadn’t seen yet. And walking through the shop, there were some chassis lined up on the floor and every chassis has a serial code on it. It had the chassis number and at the end it had ‘- EJ’ and that was pretty cool. That’s the feeling, you’re walking through and (think) ‘that’s me. That’s my car. They’re putting that car together for me.'”

The last few months have been busy for Furniture Row Racing as it prepares the No. 77 team for its first on-track action in the coming weeks. The first time the completed team will assemble will be on Jan. 31 for a test at Phoenix International Raceway.

Leading the charge for the No. 77 team will be crew chief Chris Gayle, who is coming off a season as crew chief for the No. 18 team in the Xfinity Series thatwon 12 races. When Jones drove the No. 54 car part-time in 2015, he and Gayle won a race at Chicagoland Speedway.

“I didn’t really know him on a personal level so much in 2015,” Jones said. “I spent some time with him (in Denver) last time I was there. I stayed at his house and it’s been fun getting to know him more.”

When Speedweeks rolls around, it will be the first time Jones has driven a Cup car in race conditions since 2015 when he substituted for a suspended Matt Kenseth in two races at the end of the season. That was after he drove for the injured Kyle Busch at Kansas Speedway in May of that year.

But the Cup cars have changed dramatically in those two years, with two major reductions in downforce, that Jones said those starts and even his mid-race substitution of Denny Hamlin at Bristol in April 2015 don’t count toward real Cup experience anymore.

“I realized that at a test I did at Kansas last year with the Furniture Row group,” Jones said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The driving style (in 2015) was fairly different than the test I did at Kansas a few months ago. I think it’s a small learning curve. The driver takes whatever they’re given to the maximum performance level that’s allowed.”

The Kansas test with the 2017 rules package also showed a “big change” from what Jones was used to in the Xfinity Series.

“Immediately, the first lap on the track you’re all the way out of the gas using brake,” Jones said. “I don’t think there’s a single mile-and-a-half on the schedule for the Xfinity Series where we used much brake at all and we were using quite a bit at Kansas. It’s definitely a lot different, but I think it’s good. I think putting it in the driver’s hands is what everybody in the Monster Energy Cup Series has been asking for and we’re getting to see that now.”

Jones will make his full-time Cup series debut on Feb. 26 in the Daytona 500.

NASCAR America: Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones get a feel of how Olympians train (video)

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NASCAR drivers talk almost continuously about how they have to be in top physical condition to endure sometimes often very difficult conditions while on a racetrack and behind the wheel.

One only needs to look at seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson to see the rewards of being fit.

But going to one of the Olympic training centers in the U.S. is a whole other thing, something that separates folks who think they’re fit from those that really are.

Ask Toyota drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, who recently participated in a two-day training session at an Olympic training facility.

We wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still nursing sore muscles, given the workouts they endured – and which gave them new appreciation for what many Olympians must go through to be the best.

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NASCAR America: Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch ready for Daytona fireworks (video)

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NASCAR’s summer classic, the Coke Zero 400, celebrates this country’s independence, its military heroes and concludes with a great fireworks show.

But as Clint Bowyer and this year’s Daytona 500 winner, Kurt Busch, will vouch for, there’s also a lot of fireworks during the race, as the 2.5-mile, high-banked tri-oval can be one of the most difficult and intimidating places to race upon.

If a driver isn’t dodging fellow drivers, he or she is trying to stay in the draft to gain forward movement and momentum. Unfortunately, a lot of times when dodging and draft collide, so too do a lot of cars and drivers, as well.

It may not be the Daytona 500, but winning at Daytona in July is still a big prize that everyone wants to win. And don’t forget, because it’s Daytona, it’s also a place to be careful at because of the danger that can pop up at any moment.

Find out why by clicking on the above video.

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NASCAR America: Steve Letarte kicks off weekly feature honoring pit crews (video)

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They’re the unsung heroes of NASCAR, the guys who typically don’t get enough praise when things go right, and then oftentimes have the finger of blame pointed at them when things go wrong.

We’re talking about one of the most important jobs in NASCAR: pit crew member.

Starting with Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, a guy who knows a lot about pit crews – former crew chief turned NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte – kicked off a feature that will run each week for the 20 remaining weeks of the season.

Letarte’s series will spotlight the importance of pit crews, and he’ll also choose pit crew all-stars to recognize their contributions to the sport and their perseverance on pit road.

This week’s first bunch of pit crew all-stars are Caleb Hurd, gasman for Denny Hamlin; Jeff Zarella, tire specialist for Kurt Busch and Frank Mathalia, engine tuner for Austin Dillon.

Give them and their peers some love and check out the above video.

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants one final Daytona win for himself and his father (video)

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Daytona International Speedway has been a bittersweet place for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It’s been the place of his biggest NASCAR Cup career wins, including the Daytona 500 in 2004 and 2014.

But it’s also the same place where he lost his father  in a last-lap wreck in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Now, Earnhardt returns to the “World Center of Speed” for what will be the final time in his 18-year NASCAR Cup career.

On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Earnhardt reflected upon all the good and bad Daytona has meant to him and his family.

On his first time back to Daytona after his father’s death nearly five months earlier: “Once we got to Daytona, we drove by the racetrack, pulled in, parked in Turn 3, got out and walked around. The track was empty, quiet and I’d never been to the crash site. That’s where dad, in my mind, lost his life. That was where we all remember him last.”

Returning to Daytona for the first time after his father’s death there: “I felt like that was a place I wanted to visit. And every time I go to Daytona, even today, I go around that racetrack, I look at that spot, I look at that knoll of grass before the exit of Turn 4. I wanted to go there and see how I felt and see what kind of emotions happened so that I could get whatever was going to be out of the way.

“I told myself what I was going through is the same sadness that some guy somewhere in the Midwest is dealing with right now. Who am I to go on and on about how hard it was, because somebody, somewhere right now is dealing with a loss.”

How he wishes his father was still here to see the man and driver he’s become: “I’d have loved it if he’d stuck around a lot longer, but that’s not the way it was supposed to be. And we figured out how to make it (when he won the 2001 Coke Zero 400 in his father’s honor).”

On wanting to win one last time at Daytona in a Cup car this Saturday night: “I’d love to win at Daytona and add another win to the Earnhardt column. Every time I win there, I think it’s another win for me and dad because his success there stretches far beyond the Daytona 400 and July 400. But any time I win there, that’s one more stake in the ground that we claim this track as a place we dominate.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski