It’s the hours and hours a person spends preparing for the opportunity ahead that creates success.
Furniture Row Racing’s No. 77 5-hour ENERGY team spent Tuesday and Wednesday at Phoenix International Raceway becoming familiar with the new Toyota Camry as well as each other as a new team for the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series season. Driver Erik Jones and crew chief Chris Gayle have a brief history together in the NASCAR XFINITY Series with Joe Gibbs Racing though both are entering their rookie seasons in NASCAR’s premier class.
The two-day test was the first opportunity for the new Denver, Colo.-based Furniture Row Racing team to work together as a unit at a race track since the program was announced last August. The 5-hour ENERGY team was one of more than a dozen other NASCAR Cup Series teams to take advantage of the opportunity to test with the new lower downforce package race cars.
“We learned a lot during the two days at Phoenix International Raceway,” said the 20-year-old Jones. “We made a lot of gains as a team and I made a lot of gains in getting familiar with the 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry. This is the second time I’ve driven the low-downforce package so it’s quite a bit different, in general. It’s a little more challenging to drive than what the XFINITY cars are or what the previous package was on the Cup cars that I drove in 2015.
“Now it’s just a matter of fine-tuning everything at this point. A big thing the test did was give us a good baseline for when we come back here next month. But overall, it was nice to get the group together to get everybody in sync and everybody now has a better feel for exactly what they’re going to be doing at the track. So that’s out of the way and now we can focus on Daytona.”
The first day consisted primarily of short runs and a great deal of data assessment by the team as well as an engineering group from Toyota Racing Development. The short runs continued in the morning and were followed by mock qualifying runs right before the lunch break. Data evaluation continued throughout both days and the second day concluded with multiple 25-30 lap runs all the way up to the conclusion of the test at 5 p.m. MT.
“I thought the test, overall, went well,” said Gayle. “The 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry was really good on long runs and had really good speed at the end of long runs. It was a good test to have the guys work together. That’s the thing about a first test with an entirely new team. You want to have good speed to start but it’s also all the other things you don’t think about like getting a group to work together well and actually be out of each other’s way in the garage. So it was nice to get a view of how all that worked and I think we’ll go back to the shop and we’ll talk about some things we can improve on as a team. The car’s speed was there. Now we can work on it and improve the overall setup."
The test was not the first time Jones had the opportunity to wheel a NASCAR Cup Series car around the PIR’s flat one-mile surface. The Byron, Mich., native made his third and final NASCAR Cup Series start there during the fall race in 2015 when he was the substitute driver in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota Camry, starting seventh and finishing 19th. Jones had early success at Phoenix International Raceway in his still very young career, earning his first and then consecutive Camping World Truck Series victories there in 2013 and 2014. He finished second and 10th, respectively, in the raceway’s NASCAR XFINITY Series races in 2016.
Jones and the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY team kick off the 2017 NASCAR campaign Feb. 26 with the 59th running of the Daytona 500.