JGR names Erik Jones as No. 18 driver starting at Kansas; no date set for Kyle Busch’s return

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As expected, Erik Jones will make his official Sprint Cup debut in Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota starting with the May 9 race at Kansas Speedway. It’s unclear, though, how long Jones will race in NASCAR’s premier series as a fill-in driver.

A Thursday morning release from Joe Gibbs Racing didn’t list a date for Busch’s return from injuries in the season-opening Xfinity Series race Feb. 21 at Daytona International Speedway. Busch suffered a broken right leg and fractured left foot after crashing into a concrete wall unprotected by a SAFER barrier.

A JGR spokesman said Busch continues to recover, but the team hadn’t been provide a timeline yet for returning. At a news conference two weeks ago, Busch said he wanted to return by the July 5 race at Daytona International Speedway.

After Matt Crafton substituted for Busch in the Daytona 500, David Ragan had driven the Camry for JGR in the past eight races. He will conclude the stint with Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway and move to Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota for the rest of the season. The No. 55 was scheduled to be driven by Brian Vickers, but he is out indefinitely with a recurrence of blood clots.

NASCAR Talk was the first to report in February that JGR’s plan was to move Jones into the No. 18 at Kansas.

Jones, 18, raced a Sprint Cup car April 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway in relief of Denny Hamlin and finished 26th but didn’t receive credit because he didn’t start the race. Jones scored his first Xfinity Series victory April 10 at Texas Motor Speedway, and he also runs full time in the Camping World Truck Series, where he is ranked third in the standings, six points out of the lead.

I’m pretty excited and grateful for the opportunity to drive the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry in the Sprint Cup Series and make my debut for Joe Gibbs Racing,” the Byron, Mich., native said in a release. “This is a really good opportunity for me. We are going to try to manage our expectations and if we can go out and get a top-15 run and gain some experience, that would be a great day for us. I’m also excited about representing M&M’S, a great longtime partner at JGR and such a well-known brand. I am looking forward to getting behind the wheel of the M&M’S Toyota at Kansas.”

Jones will be running a a special paint scheme at Kansas to promote M&M’S support of Red Nose Day, a major charitable event.