Monday, May 11, 2015

COMMENTARY: Jones Slated For Sprint Cup Stardom

There’s a new hot property in NASCAR racing, and his name is Erik Jones. 

The 18-year old phenom from the small town of Byron, Michigan burst onto the motorsports scene in 2012 by winning the prestigious Snowball Derby at Florida’s Five Flags Speedway; a win secured by driving around the outside of Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch in the race’s final laps.

Suitably impressed, Busch gave Jones a test drive with his Kyle Busch Motorsports Super Late Model and Camping World Truck Series teams, and the wins came quickly and often. In the span of just 18 months, Jones earned a full-time Truck Series ride with KBM, where he currently stands third in championship points. He was poised for Victory Lane Friday night in Kansas before running out of fuel with less than five laps remaining, relegated him to a season-worst 11th-place finish. He has also made nine XFINITY Series starts for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, winning at Texas Motor Speedway and earning three consecutive poles.  

Erik Jones: On the fast track
Jones climbed the final rung on NASCAR’s developmental ladder recently, subbing for Denny Hamlin when Hamlin strained neck muscles and needed relief following a rain delay at Bristol Motor Speedway. Last week, he was named to replace the injured Kyle Busch in the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota at Kansas Speedway, and once again responded in spectacular fashion. He was ninth in the weekend’s first practice (first in 10-lap average) and set the pace in Happy Hour before qualifying 12th and racing among the Top-10 in the main event. At one point, he battled three-wide with former series champions Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, showing aggressiveness and poise despite his relative newcomer’s status. 

His evening ended 70 laps early, when a bout with the Turn Four wall sent him behind the wall for repairs. But a 40th-place finish Saturday night did nothing to dull the luster on a young talent who is universally heralded – along with Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson – as one of NASCAR’s new, can’t-miss young stars. 

“I learned a lot about racing up front and racing with these guys,” said Jones afterward. “It’s definitely nice to be as fast as we were. We had a great M&M’s Camry, but I just got loose off (turn) four and lost it. It’ss too bad, I had such a good night going. It's just a matter of trying to get a little better on my end and figuring out where the limit is. Unfortunately, we found it there." 

“We had a good night before that. I’m ready to do another one (and) I hope I get another shot.” 

Jones "found the limit" in Kansas
Unless Kyle Busch makes an unexpected return to competition this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jones will almost certainly get that shot. Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson told at Kansas that the Michigan native is “not going anywhere,” adding, “We're going to keep Toyotas underneath him, somehow, some way. 

“Whether Erik belongs in a Cup car full-time or an XFINITY car full-time (is) secondary,” said Wilson. “He hasn't gone through a complete season and raced for a championship. There's a certain discipline and mentality that it takes (to do that). His day job right now is to win a Camping World Truck Series championship, and from there, the sky is the limit.”

Wilson said Jones’ 2016 season is already mapped out, with TRD “working on the year after that."

Sources say he will return for a full XFINITY campaign next season, with an ascension to the Sprint Cup ranks virtually guaranteed for 2017. Where Jones will fit into Toyota's Sprint Cup Series lineup is uncertain at present, but sources say he is likely to find a home a JGR, rather than being farmed out to Michael Waltrip Racing or another Toyota affiliate. 

That should make everyone in the current Gibbs lineup very, very nervous. 

Photo Credits:, Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports


  1. Anonymous10:40 AM

    It's great to see another small-town Michigan guy get a shot - I grew up only 20 miles from Byron (they were in our conference in High School) - it's exciting to see Erik taking advantage of these opportunities. He's well spoken, humble and respectful. I look forward to watching him excel in Nascar - just kinda hoping he doesn't move up too fast - I hope he does a full season in Xfinitiy before coming to Cup in 2017 or 2018.... (By all means I think he's talented enough to go full time Cup, but I feel moving up too fast kinda set Logano back a year or two). Anyway, I agree Dave, if I was Hamlin, Busch, Edwards and Kennseth - I'd be a little nervous :)

  2. Joe Gibbs kicking himself now for signing mid pack Carl Should have waited a year or so to field the 4th car

  3. Anonymous12:28 PM

    All I can say about this boy is WOW!!

  4. Anonymous12:36 PM

    I believe there are going to be a couple spots opening up at JGR in the next year or two, with Hamlin and Busch looking to win a championship and seeing that it is not going to happen at JGR or with Toyota. The most obvious move would be Kyle to SHR in the 14 as Tony finally steps aside and possibly Hamlin in the 10. However, this is NOT necessarily good news for Jones. The effort of Toyota to hold onto him whatever it takes will hurt Jones, as the best rides are definitely not Toys, but Chevy or Ford. With Elliott and Blaney committed to the best Chevy and Ford teams, that essentially leaves Jones with not a lot to look forward to in the next several years.

    BTW, look for Kyle to be back for the Coke 600 unless baby watch prevents it. He is ready and eager to come back. At this point, it is incorrect to call an early return "unexpected."

    1. LOL, I guess I should have checked with you to get the real story before writing. My sources in the garage are CLEARLY not as well-informed as you.

    2. While Kyle has shown incredible recovery, the 600 is not the place for him to jump back into a car.
      If he practices and runs the Sprint Showdown, and practices a lot to build up stamina... maybe.

    3. Anonymous1:41 PM

      To Dave: Don't patronize me. My statements were based on logic, not "sources in the garage" who are notoriously unreliable. Furthermore, the whole substance of your article is based on one Cup start and a wish. We won't know for years if any of the young "superstars of the week" achieve stardom. It seems to be the job of the media to declare the next big thing every after every race. The parade goes on. It took humiliation and frustration at JGR before Logano left and found his place at Penske. I am only being a realist.

      Andrew, Kyle ran 300 laps in his first test. The 600 will be a test, but that is a good place to have Jones standing by for relief.

    4. Anonymous1:45 PM

      BTW, it turns out I was correct about Kyle's "unexpected return." All the signs pointed that way, but you and your sources were less informed that the fans.

    5. Lest you blow a rotator cuff patting yourself on the back, even Kyle said today that this early return was unexpected by both him and his doctors.

    6. And for the record, this is my blog, and I'll write about anything I care to write about. My opinion is my opinion, and you are not required to agree with it, or even read it. If you really want to be a big shot, start your own blog and tell the world what YOU think. And at the end of the year, we'll compare NMPA Awards.

  5. My opinion, that no one has asked for, is Denny Hamlin will end up with MWR, Michael Waltrip seems to have nothing but good to say about Denny, and watches his every move on the TV broadcast, and predicts him as the winner every week. I think a move to MWR would be good for both, and open up a place for Eric.

  6. So far, so good.
    Let's check back in a few years and see if he's still burning down the house, a mid-packer, or even in the sport.

    Best of luck but it's still very early days

  7. Anonymous3:17 PM

    First TRD needs to find some horsepower then maybe everyone can speculate where anyone is going. As much as I love seeing Chevrolet win every week, it's not fun for TRD and after all these years of trying and if they can't catch a championship soon, when will they pull the plug? NASCAR is losing Sprint, TRD could leave, where does that leave room for anyone in the future?

    I wish Honda or Nissan would make the commitment to NASCAR simply to compete against Toyota, yet 20 years on they sit on the sidelines. A two manufacturer series means a lot of lost jobs, drivers included. .

  8. Anonymous2:13 AM

    I will reserve my judgment till he actually "makes it", where is that "sure win" we are still waiting on Kyle Larson for?