RELATED: Jones to drive No. 20 in 2018
A day after Erik Jones unveiled the “next” biggest news in his burgeoning racing career, the 21-year-old was clearly still enjoying the opportunity and impact presented to him.
In an interview with NASCAR.com, there was no mistaking the happiness and eagerness in his voice as he looked forward to taking over the No. 20 Toyota for the championship Joe Gibbs Racing team beginning next year.
“I’m just happy to have it out now and be able to talk about it, really get working on everything.” Jones said, adding that he didn’t know about the exact plan until recently. “It’s definitely something I’m excited about.”
Now that the big news is out and official, he can take a deep breath and continue his effort to make the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs as a rookie driving the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing team Toyota.
“Starting out and getting into the Cup Series, my time here, obviously I owe a lot to Furniture Row and (team owner) Barney Visser and Joe Garone,” Jones said. … “For me, we set a lot of goals at the beginning of the year and we want to work to attain those goals.
“We have the whole back half of the season left so hopefully we can go out and accomplish them. I definitely owe those guys for the opportunity they gave me. I think the 77 team as a group is still committed to running well and making the playoffs.”
They are certainly running like it, anyway.
Jones has one top five and five top 10s through the first 18 races, including two top 10s in a row heading in to New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend. And he insists there isn’t one particular track he’s betting on to collect his first Cup win. He’s comfortable at most.
And he does have XFINITY Series wins at several places remaining on the schedule, from Bristol (Tennessee) to Chicago to Fort Worth.
“I do feel like we’re on track,” Jones said. “Kentucky was actually one of the strongest races we’ve put together from start to finish, even though it wasn’t the finish (sixth) we wanted. We were close to the top five all night long.
“Those weekends, you look back and think, ‘If we had just qualified a little better, gotten a better pit stall, more track position all those things add up.’
“There’s no one track I’m really optimistic about, but I really think we show up strong every week at the track.”
His teammate Martin Truex Jr. has certainly given him reason to feel optimistic. Truex drove the No. 78 FRR Toyota to his third win Saturday night and is currently second to Kyle Larson in the championship by a single point.
So as Jones gladly conceded this week, “You have to feel like you have a shot.”
It’s a feeling Jones will most likely continue to have.
He has the unique and fortunate situation of going from one championship-caliber, top-flight team to another championship-caliber team and has done it all while maintaining his long-standing relationship with Toyota.
In summary: It’s good to be Erik Jones.
“It’s pretty nice as a rookie driver in the sport to know where I’m going next year,” Jones conceded. “And for me, it’s been two really great race teams.
“Hopefully, we can start to get some groundwork going for JGR and be there for a long, long time. I’m really excited. JGR has done a lot for me and my career. It’s a place, I’m really comfortable, I know everyone really well. It feels like home.”
“There’s plenty of young drivers and not all get the opportunity to go out and showcase their talent. It’s really fortunate for myself to be in this opportunity. It was a lot of hard work and time to get here and it’s definitely paying off at this point.
“It’s been fun to be a part of the ride and it’s been a fast one so far.”