Erik Jones and Furniture Row Racing’s No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota team look to add to his already impressive track record at Phoenix International Raceway in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Camping World 500.
The Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate has earned three victories and three pole positions, as well as five top-five and eight top-10 finishes in just nine starts at the flat one-mile oval east of Phoenix. The statistics from eight of those races were achieved in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, where he won the spring race last season, and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series where he earned his first NASCAR victory in 2013 and then repeated the next year.
The ninth race took place in the Cup series (Nov. 15, 2015), when Jones subbed for Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. His strong seventh-place qualifying effort was followed by a very respectable 19th-place race finish despite it being just his third NASCAR Cup Series start.
“Sometimes you just go to tracks where things click right away and Phoenix is definitely one of those tracks for me,” said Jones. “I felt really comfortable right off the bat and I’ve always had great cars and trucks there. Some of the tendencies of the track relate back to what I was used to racing short tracks and Late Models. It has a short track feel to it even as fast as it is.”
Jones has moved up 19 positions in the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series standings, to 20th, in the two races since finishing 39th in the season-opening Daytona 500 after getting collected in a crash just past the halfway mark. He finished 14th at Atlanta Motor Speedway and 15th last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Jones’ 49 points place him one behind Kyle Busch for 19th and 19 behind Denny Hamlin for 15th.
The 20-year-old Byron, Mich., native made his first laps in the new 2018 Toyota Camry during a two-day pre-season test, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, at Phoenix International Raceway.
“Testing at PIR before the season started turned out to be a pretty big benefit,” Jones continued. “It gave me a chance to get into the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota for the first time and work with Chris [Gayle, crew chief] and all of the guys before heading to Daytona. It’s definitely encouraging going there knowing we have good speed and we’ve had experience there together for the first time this year even though it was a test and not a race weekend. I hope we can take a lot of things we learned from the test and apply them this weekend.”
The 312-lap (312 miles/500 km) Camping World 500 will consist of three stages of 75/75/162 laps (laps 75/150/312). In each of the first two stages, drivers finishing in the top-10 will receive championship points (10 to 1) with the winner receiving one playoff point. The overall race winner will earn 40 championship points and five playoff points. Playoff points accumulated during the season will carry through the first three of the four playoff rounds.
Sunday’s Camping World 500 will air live on the Fox network beginning at 3 p.m. ET. Qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) is scheduled for Friday, beginning at 7:45 p.m. ET on FS1.