Erik Jones will drive the #20 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2018. The announcement was made on Tuesday.
“It’s exciting to have Erik back to run full-time with us starting next season,” team owner Joe Gibbs stated. “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 currently races for Furniture Row Racing in the #77 car. An ally of JGR, the team has three wins in 2017 courtesy of Martin Truex Jr. The #77 team was formed for the season, FRR’s first multi-team campaign in team history. Truex is currently 2nd in points behind Kyle Larson, while Jones is 14th with five top-10 finishes and one top-5 (3rd at Pocono).
With the move, Matt Kenseth will exit his #20 ride after a five-year tenure in the car. Kenseth, who sits 11th in points, has won 14 races with JGR, including a 2nd-place points finish in 2013. However, JGR has yet to win a race in 2017.
“Matt has been a tremendous asset to our organization over the past five seasons both on and off the track,” Gibbs added. “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.”
Kenseth has not announced his plans for 2018, but at 45 years of age, he would be the Cup Series’ oldest active driver. In the week leading up to last Saturday’s race at Kentucky, Kenseth expressed the unlikelihood of returning to JGR, especially as his contract expires at the end of the 2017 season.
“I’m not really worried about it,” the 2003 champion commented on Friday. “As of today, I do not have a job for next year, so I certainly hope to still be racing. I think I’ve got some wins left in me and hopefully can race for championships. Right now, my focus is on finishing up this year.”
2018 will not be the first time Jones has driven the #20 Cup car. In late 2015, Jones drove the car at the Texas and Phoenix fall races in place of Kenseth, who had been suspended for those races after intentionally wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville. Jones finished 12th and 19th. Earlier in the year, he also drove JGR’s #11 at Bristol in the spring, replacing an injured Denny Hamlin mid-way through the event and finishing 26th. Three races later, he raced JGR’s #18 as a replacement for the injured Kyle Busch at Kansas, where he finished 40th after a crash.
The 2014 Camping World Truck Series champion, Jones also drives JGR’s #20 in the Xfinity Series. He finished 4th in the 2016 Xfinity championship with four wins; he also won two races as a part-timer in 2015. In nine races in 2017, he has won twice.
A Byron, Michigan native, Jones was first noticed by Busch when he defeated the 2015 Cup champion in the 2012 Snowball Derby. Busch eventually signed Jones to Kyle Busch Motorsports, placing him in the Toyota Racing/JGR program.
A driver for the #77 in 2018 has not been announced.
Featured image courtesy of NASCAR.com