Grassroots effort pays off for Jones and Toyota – Motorsport.com, Edition: Global
On Sunday, Furniture Row Racing made it official that Eric Jones will pilot the No. 77 5-hour Toyota in 2017.
The news was first reported by Motorsport.com on Friday.
Team owner Barney Visser said the one-year deal with Toyota Racing Development driver was the next step in the progression of the Denver-based organization.
“We’re very excited to have all the components of a second race team pulled together here,” Visser said. “It’s all come together in the last month.
“To find a driver like Erik, a sponsor like 5‑Hour ENERGY, along with our technical agreement with Gibbs, we think we’re going to be able to run right up where we need to run. We’re very excited to get it all pulled together here.”
Preparation well underway
Visser says the company is already recruiting crewmen for the second team. He added FRR will obtain a charter for the No. 77 team and Jones but, “We’re not sure who we’re going to get it from yet.”
Since David Wilson was promoted to president and GM of TRD three years ago, he has developed an incredible farm system of talent through the open wheel ranks to NASCAR.
Although Jones came through Late Models, it took just four season for TRD’s development program to bear fruit.
“Toyota and TRD are very happy for Erik Jones and our partners at Furniture Row Racing,” Wilson said. “I think a day like today, you have to put into perspective. It was four years ago that Erik Jones, famously now, beat Kyle Busch in the Snowball Derby Late Model race.
Last year, Erik won his first NASCAR championship with Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM). This year, Erik is fighting for Xfinity championship with Joe Gibbs Racing.”
From Snowball Derby winner to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver
In just four seasons, Jones, 20, has climbed from a relative unknown to one of the top prospects in NASCAR. Jones first gained recognition after beating Kyle Busch to win the 2012 Snowball Derby. Busch recruited the Byron, Mich., native to drive the No. 51 KBM Tundra the following season. Jones won at Phoenix Raceway in his fifth truck start and the Camping World Truck title for KBM last year. He has seven career truck wins.
He is currently fourth in the Xfinity point standings. Jones won his first of five NXS races in his ninth career start. This season, Jones has wins Bristol, Dover and Iowa.
“So, next year, for him to ascend to the Cup Series with Furniture Row Racing is a spectacular story,” Wilson added. “Three different teams in three consecutive years — and Toyota is the fortunate and grateful common denominator in that equation. But the underlying point is we wouldn’t be sitting here today were it not for the tremendous partnership that we enjoy with Kyle Busch Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing.
“I think Erik ascending the to Cup level, this is the first time a Toyota driver has grown through the grassroots ranks all the way through to a national series. I think it’s a great story for Toyota, but probably a greater story for NASCAR and the future of our sport.”
Jones joins Martin Truex Jr. at Furniture Row Racing. The driver of the No. 78 Toyota is excited about expanding and believes Jones will be an asset to the organization.
“He’s a good kid and obviously really talented,” Truex said. “You give him a good car, and he puts it up front. It seems like the Gibbs guys have a lot of trust in him, a lot of confidence in what he can do.”
Jones ready for the next step
Jones made three Sprint Cup Series starts last year substituting for Busch and Matt Kenseth. He had a remarkable qualifying average of 8.3 and his best finish was 12th at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I don’t think at any point in your career that you’re totally ready to make that move,” Jones told motorsport.com. “Last year, I think I learned a lot in the few starts that I made. At the end of the day, I’m as ready as I can be. At the end of the day you’ve got to make that jump and you’re going to sink or swim. I think I’m in the best situation to hopefully swim and be successful at it.
“There’s going to be a lot to learn for sure. There’s going to be some ups and downs throughout the year but I think at the end of it all, we’re going to be in a good position. We’ll have speed added and hopefully, we’ll be competitive throughout the year.”