After winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in 2015, Erik Jones figured he’d spend two or three years in the Xfinity Series before eventually moving up to the NASCAR Cup Series.
After all, what was the rush? He’s only 20 years old.
But as it turned out, that two-to-three year gameplan in Xfinity that Joe Gibbs Racing had in mind was quickly reduced to just one year, the 2016 campaign.
Now, Jones finds himself in NASCAR’s premier series, driver of the No. 77 Toyota Camry and teammates with veteran Martin Truex Jr. at Furniture Row Racing.
Not only is this Jones’ first season in NASCAR Cup, it’s also Furniture Row’s first year as a two-car team. Up to this point over the last decade-plus, the Denver, Colorado-based FRR has been only a single-car team.
And with Monday’s announcement of a new points format and three stages in a race starting this season, Jones’ rookie season may be a bit more difficult than he anticipated because he may have to change his aggressive driving style somewhat.
“All throughout my career, I’ve been an all or nothing, checkers or wreckers driver,” Jones said Tuesday during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. “I think it’s definitely different this year.
“You have to rack up those points. The more bonus points you have, the better chance you have to make it to Homestead.”
Jones is the first graduate, so to speak, of the Toyota driver development program to reach the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“When I joined KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) in 2013, Toyota was heavily invested into our sport but they didn’t have a driver development program like now,” Jones said. “It was me and Darrell Wallace. People forget. Toyota did a lot for me and has for me.”
Teaming with Truex will be valuable to Jones as he tries to learn the ropes of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“I think Martin will be a great teammate,” Jones said. “For Furniture Row it will be so beneficial to have two cars at the track. That one extra car is pretty important. It should be good.
“… I think it’s going to be an exciting season with a new group of guys. It’s a team that’s really on the rise and is growing.”
One of the biggest personal challenges for Jones will be a rivalry with another young driver who was the Cup Series’ Rookie of the Year last season, Chase Elliott.
“I guess there sort of was that at the Late Model level,” Jones said. “We raced each other so much. I don’t know if it will carry to the Cup series. We weren’t wrecking; we just raced hard and were upset if we lost. Neither wanted to lose to each other.
“We felt we were competing against each other, trying to burst onto the NASCAR scene. It’d be good if we are running up front and running together (this season).”