WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Erik Jones will move into the Sprint Cup Series with Furniture Row Racing next season, but his future – and those of other Toyota drivers – isn’t set beyond 2017.
As expected, Jones was announced Sunday morning as the new teammate to Martin Truex Jr. in a No. 77 Toyota with sponsorship from 5-hour Energy (which will be on the Camry for 22 races; no other sponsors were announced). Team owner Barney Visser confirmed that Jones’ contract with the team is for one year and “we hope to make that many more” beyond 2017.
If Jones excels with the Denver-based team (which he visited last Monday for the first time), there is a good possibility he could stay at Furniture Row – but it also might depend on the status of his current Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Daniel Suarez and the plans of several sponsors.
“I have a one-year agreement with Furniture Row, and I’m not sure where it will go after that,” Jones, 20, said. “There’s a lot of factors that go into it. As next year goes on, we’ll be able to know better. But honestly, I don’t think many of us know what the total plan is there.”
Multiple sources told NBC Sports that Jones still could return to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2018 or 2019. Among the scenarios being considered could involve Kenseth, 44, driving for two more seasons in the No. 20 at JGR before Jones returning, and Suarez, who recently earned his first Xfinity win in his second full season, being promoted to Cup with Furniture Row.
Kenseth and sponsor DeWalt (which will replace Dollar General next year as the No. 20’s primary sponsor) have deals through the end of 2017.
Jones, who is racing full time in Xfinity this season with JGR after winning the 2015 Camping World Truck Series championship, has been under contract with Gibbs since 2014 and still has a contractual relationship with JGR. Jones declined to confirm that because “they don’t really like to talk about that kind of stuff.”
“His (Cup) contract is Furniture Row Racing,” Visser said. “I don’t know what his deal is (with JGR) or if he has a deal. I know we’ve got him and hope to keep him.
Regardless of Jones’ status, Furniture Row will campaign two Sprint Cup Toyotas beyond 2017. Team general manager Joe Garone said 5-hour Energy has an option to return in 2018.
JGR and Furniture Row also have multiyear deals with Toyota Racing Development, which wants to expand its lineup in the future beyond the four cars at JGR and two at FRR.
“We don’t really like to talk about (contract) terms,” TRD president David Wilson said. “Our focus is ’17; ’18 is still open. That will happen organically. We have a number of options.
“I think the point really we wanted to make today is for Toyota and Furniture Row, adding an additional team isn’t a one-year deal. My intention is to run at least six Toyotas in the Cup Series from ’17 forward. Whether Erik stays in the 77 or another young talent comes up, and Erik goes somewhere else, we honestly don’t know at this point.”
It also is unclear how Furniture Row will obtain a second charter, but Visser said his team won’t be running Jones’ No. 77 as an “open” car in 2017.
“There’s several charters out there that we’re hearing are available,” Visser said. “We’ve been looking at it some. We’re not exactly sure where we’re going to be on that. We are going to get a charter, but we’re not sure who we’re going to get it from yet.”