(WOMR file photo)
It hasn’t taken long for the buzz in the Sprint Cup garage to start focusing in on Joe Gibbs Racing developmental driver Erik Jones. With his meteoric rise in the last year and a half from an obscure super late madel driver, to someone who beat Kyle Busch at The Snowflake Derby, to a winning Camping World Truck driver for Kyle Busch Motorsports, to a winning XFINITY race car driver fro JGR at Texas Friday night. This young Michigan native is on the fast track in NASCAR!
The celebration had barely ended in Victory Lane on Friday night following the first Xfinity Series win for the 18-year-old, and team owner Joe Gibbs appeared more than ready to put him in a seat of a Sprint Cup car.
Jones, who led 79 laps on his way to victory in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, will be in a Cup car “very quick,” Gibbs said.
With Kyle Busch’s return date still undetermined from a broken right leg and broken left foot suffered in a crash in February, Gibbs has talked about putting Jones in Busch’s Cup car when he feels it’s the right time.
Jones’ performance in outlasting Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the victory Friday no doubt is encouraging Gibbs to make “the right time” sooner than later, as Jones won in just his ninth Xfinity start.
“There’s no question that at some point very quick he’s going to be in a Cup car some,” Gibbs said. “We kind of have a little bit of a strategy there that we’ve talked about. He’s ready to go at any time.”
Jones is driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports full time in the Camping World Truck Series while also driving as many Xfinity races as possible for JGR that don’t conflict with his trucks schedule.
Unfortunately Gibbs has “no room at the inn” for young Erick Jones. Currently JGR is running four race teams, the mazimum allowed by NASCAR, and all of his drivers are signed through 2016. However, JGR can run a fifth team for a rookie for up to seven races this year, or loan him to another race team.
Last night Jones showed he wasn’t afraid to battle the Cup stars. He even bumped Earnhardt from behind, eventually getting past him before a crash brought out the caution flag and led to the duel with Keselowski, who has 32 career Xfinity wins.
Jones, who became the youngest winner in the truck series when he was 17 at Phoenix in 2013, is the second-youngest Xfinity winner at Texas at 18 years, 10 months. Chase Elliott won last spring’s race at 18 years, 4 months.
Jones acknowledged after the race that he was frustrated with Earnhardt as he tried to get around him with about 50 laps to go, figuring the veteran was trying to teach him a little patience.
There is one important thing to consider:
If Joe Gibbs Racing cannot find a Sprint Cup ride for Erik Jones, fellow Toyota team owner Rob Kauffman says Michael Waltrip Racing might have a Camry for the 18-year-old phenom.
“There are a lot of moving parts, but we would love to figure something out,” Kauffman told Motorsports.com prior to Saturday’s Duck Commander 500.
Kauffman acknowledged he went to Victory Lane last night during Jones’ celebration to congratulate Coach Gibbs and Dave Wilson, President and General Manager, Toyota Racing Development.
Currently MWR runs two teams – the No. 15 with veteran Clint Bowyer, who is in the first year of the three-year contract and the No. 55 with Moffitt, who is filling in for Brian Vickers while he recovers from blood clots.
If the rumor mill is accurate, Jones could make his Cup debut at Kansas Speedway on May 9th. Should he perform well, Jones could continue in the No. 18 until Busch is ready to return!
So sports fans, it appears that JGR is in a very enviable position! That is, more talent than he has available seats!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILLWORKING ON MY REDNECK!