The continued impressive performance of Erik Jones has done more than help solidify Furniture Row Racing as a potential powerhouse in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It also has elevated interest in the No. 77 Toyota for 2018.
“There have been some really good drivers that are looking around and that have inquired about the car because I think it is obvious the performance of the car is something any driver would like to be in right now,” Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing, told NASCAR.com. “It hasn’t shocked me; it’s a compliment to the team some of the drivers that have talked to us.”
The potential for an open seat exists because Jones, 21, is headed to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2018 to take over the No. 20 Toyota currently driven by veteran Matt Kenseth.
Garone didn’t name names, but it’s likely both Kenseth and Kasey Kahne are among those who have expressed interest in the ride since neither will be back with their respective teams next season. While Kenseth is being replaced by Jones, Kahne is being released with one year remaining on his contract with Hendrick Motorsports as that organization puts William Byron in its No. 5 Chevrolet in ’18.
Jones, competing for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, earned his first Coors Light Pole in the series this past weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway and led 260 of the 500 laps. He finished second to Kyle Busch for his ninth top 10 of the season.
Teammate Martin Truex Jr. has four wins, 15 stage wins and leads the points standings.
The Denver-based organization had one victory (Regan Smith’s 2011 victory at Darlington) and not much in the way of clout until 2013, when then-driver Kurt Busch carried the No. 78 into the playoffs and finished 10th in the overall standings.
Truex came aboard the following season as Busch departed, won his first race with the team in ’15 and finished fourth in points.
The 2016 season was pivotal — the organization switched from racing Chevrolet entries to Toyota, Truex won four more times and he again made the playoffs.
That rise in competitiveness led team owner Barney Visser and his group to expand for ’17, adding Jones and the No. 77 entry to the fold. With continued support from Toyota and a technical alliance with JGR, the move has provided its share of benefits.
Those benefits, however, are dependent on additional funding should they continue in 2018.
“It’s 100 percent relying on sponsorship,” Garone said on whether the organization will field the No. 77 next year. “We certainly never got into this to run just one year. A set of circumstances presented itself that we’re having to deal with. It’s late in the year and we’ve known for a little bit that we were possibly going to be facing having to find another sponsor.”
If the worst-case scenario comes to fruition, Garone said employees won’t lose their jobs.
“We’ll keep the second team intact and we’ll have one heck of a strong staff for a single car team if that’s what ends up happening,” he said. “But it certainly is not our intent to have that happen.
“There is still strong hope … it’s not a complete ‘No, we’re not going to run it.’ There is a lot of interest right now and performance helps with all of that. Erik sitting on the pole (at Bristol) doesn’t hurt and the 78 winning races. I think Erik has a win in him. … Those are the teams you want to be with.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!