Erik Jones will join Joe Gibbs Racing next season.
Jones takes over the No. 20 ride Matt Kenseth has had since joining JGR in 2013. Kenseth has scored 14 of his 38 career wins with the team. Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Kenseth will not return to the organization.
“Matt (Kenseth) has been a tremendous asset to our organization over the past five seasons both on and off the track,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, in a statement. “He’s been a great teammate and a great ambassador for our sponsors. We have a great deal of respect for him and we are working hard to get the 20 team into the playoffs to make a run for the championship. We have a great deal of confidence in his abilities to do just that.
“At the same time it’s exciting to have Erik back to run fulltime with us starting next season. When a number of circumstances made it clear over the past few weeks that a second year for the 77 car was probably not viable at this time for Erik, we all agreed that we wanted to keep him in the Toyota racing family and felt it was the right time to make this transition. He is an exciting driver that has already proven to have the ability to compete at the highest level of our sport. He is also shown to be a great representative to our partners and we believe he is at the beginning of a long and successful career.”
Jones is 14th in the points (but outside a playoff spot) with one top-five and five top-10 finishes for Furniture Row Racing.
The move is not a surprise. Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser said last year that Jones had a one-year contract with the team, leading to speculation that the Toyota-backed driver would then head to JGR.
“This is a really exciting time in my career for me to make the move back to Joe Gibbs Racing full time in the Cup Series and continue to have the success I’ve had with them over the last few years,” Jones said in a statement. “I will always be grateful for the opportunity given to me by Barney Visser and everyone at Furniture Row Racing this year for my first full year in the Cup Series.
“I’ve learned a lot this year and I’ve had a great group of guys around me each week to lean on as I figured out my rookie season and how to make my way in the Cup Series. The 77 team, from myself, crew chief Chris Gayle and every crew member, we’ve come a long way since February and we still have a lot to accomplish this season. We’ve hit our stride the last few weeks with strong finishes and while it’s nice to have my plans for 2018 announced, I’m focused on continuing to improve and get this team a win before the season ends.”
As for the future of the No. 77 team at Furniture Row Racing?
“Regarding today’s announcement that Erik Jones will drive in the NASCAR Cup Series for Joe Gibbs Racing starting in 2018, Furniture Row Racing’s commitment to Jones and the No. 77 team remains the same for the remainder of the season,” Visser said in a statement.“Our goal is for Jones to qualify for the playoffs, make a run for the championship and capture Rookie of the Year honors.
“We are working on our team plans for 2018 but don’t have anything concrete to report at this time except that Martin Truex Jr. will continue to drive the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.”
Jones, who turned 21 on May 30, rocketed through NASCAR’s ranks after being discovered by Kyle Busch in 2012 after Jones beat Busch to win the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.
He became the youngest winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2013 at 17 years, five months and eight days when he won at Phoenix. Cole Custer broke that mark in 2014.
Jones won the Truck title in 2015, becoming the youngest series champ at 19 years, five months, 21 days and made his first Cup appearance that season in relief of Denny Hamlin at Bristol. He later drove a Cup race for an injured Kyle Busch and two races for Kenseth after Kenseth had been suspended for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville.
Jones won four Xfintiy races last year as a rookie and ran for the championship in the season finale in Miami but finished fourth in the points.