Matt Kenseth’s replacement in the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing isn’t much of a surprise.
Joe Gibbs Racing said Tuesday that Erik Jones would take over the No. 20 car for Kenseth in 2018. The announcement came days after Kenseth said Friday that he was likely not returning to JGR for the 2018 season.
“Matt has been a tremendous asset to our organization over the past five seasons both on and off the track,” Joe Gibbs said in a statement. “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.
“At the same time it’s exciting to have Erik back to run full-time with us starting next season. 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.”
Kenseth’s contract is up at the end of the year. Jones, meanwhile, is spending his rookie 2017 season at Furniture Row Racing with the No. 77 car. After finishing sixth at Kentucky, Jones is currently 14th in the points standings. He has 15 wins over the past four-plus seasons in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series for JGR.
JGR teammate Kyle Busch made it clear in an interview with SiriusXM over the weekend that Jones was Kenseth’s likely successor and that he would be bringing sponsorship. Kenseth’s car has had multiple sponsors in 2017, including two races in which his car was sponsored by Toyota.
Jones is sponsored by 5-Hour Energy this season. But because rival Monster Energy sponsors the Cup Series, 5-Hour can’t leave the team. Jones has been driving the No. 77 on a one-year contract and team owner Barney Visser said “We have nothing concrete pulled together right now” on Saturday regarding a second car for the 2018 season.
Martin Truex Jr., Jones’ teammate, won Saturday night’s race at Kentucky.
Kenseth, 45, has said he wants to keep driving beyond 2018. It seems like he’ll have options for next season, as Hendrick Motorsports is looking for a driver to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. and there could be a lot of other driver movement before the 2018 season begins.
– – – – – – –