Erik Jones put the finishing touches on an impressive season with Sunoco Rookie of the Year of honors.
The Furniture Row Racing driver earned 14 top-10 finishes, one pole and led 310 laps in 36 races. He ended the year 19th in the point standings after finishing 21st in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I think it’s something to be proud of for all of us,” Jones said. “You look back on the season and starting out a new group over at Furniture Row Racing, a second team was a big step for us, and a lot of guys that hadn’t been in the Cup Series, some had.
“But a rookie crew chief [Chris Gayle], a rookie driver, and we were able to have a strong season, compete for some wins along the way, and end up with Rookie of the Year. So definitely one to be proud of. That was one of our big goals was to get the Rookie of the Year, and it’s nice to close it out with that.”
The night race at Bristol in August might have been Jones’ shining moment. After grabbing his first career pole, the 21-year-old contended for the win and a potential spot in the playoffs by leading 260 laps and finishing second.
Jones moved to the Cup Series off a 2016 season in which he won the same rookie honors and four races in the Xfinity Series. The learning curve was steep, and Jones admitted there are many things he looks back on and could have done better. There are also races where he felt he gave away a decent finish.
“Being able to start the year over now, I think we would have had a much different season with everybody having a little bit more experience; myself, Chris, the team, everybody having that extra experience would have been a big bonus,” Jones said.
“Going into next year with the 20 car [at Joe Gibbs Racing] is going to be a big change for sure. It’s obviously a group of guys that have been on the road for a long time … and then Chris coming over and taking the reins there I think is going to be really good. And especially me having some notes to go back on when we go to these tracks again is going to be a big benefit for myself.”
The No. 77 team Jones competed with this season will not return next year. A lack of funding forced team owner Barney Visser to shutter it with hopes of it racing again in the future.
Jones celebrated his Rookie of the Year award as his teammate, Martin Truex Jr., was crowned the 2017 series champion.