12 April 2015

Inside Line: What does the future hold for Erik Jones?

Inside Line is a blogging project for my COMM-326 Sports Journalism course

Ever since Erik Jones set the record for the youngest driver ever to win in one of NASCAR's top series when he won at Phoenix in 2013 at the age of 17, he has seemed poised to quickly become a star in the sport. And he also only supported that belief as he won three truck races last season in only 12 races and then on Friday night, he won his first Xfinity race as he led a race high 79 laps and outdueled Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Therefore, Joe Gibbs, who owned the car that Jones raced on Friday night at Texas, has certainly caught notice.

"There's no question that at some point very quick he's going to be in a Cup car some," he said. "We kind of have a little bit of a strategy there that we've talked about. He's ready to go at any time." He then added "we know that Erik is on the fast track. It's just a matter of when."

Those comments are very interesting that Gibbs' organization is maxed out at four teams in Cup and all four of those drivers are signed through at least next season. However, he does have a temporary vacancy with the 18 car as Kyle Busch has been out after suffering a massive compound fracture in his right leg after a vicious crash at Daytona in the Xfinity opener. David Ragan has been filling in since the 500 (Matt Crafton filled in for that race) and there is no timetable for Busch's return.

While it isn't a long-term solution, one could think that Jones could get some Cup action in the 18 car at some point. There is a report out there that Jones could make his Cup debut on May 9th in Kansas City, but that same report may have found another Toyota organization that could provide more of a long-term answer.

Michael Waltrip Racing only has two race teams, one of which is solidly locked down with Clint Bowyer, who is in the first year of a three-year contract, in the 15 car. However the other car, the 55, is in a bit of flux as Brian Vickers has been sidelined with blood clots and will be out for the near future as he is on blood thinners. He has been replaced in the meantime by MWR developmental driver Brett Moffitt who had a nice run at Atlanta where he finished eighth but since then, his best finish is 22nd. It is also important to note that Vickers's contract only goes through the end of the season.

And MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman had an interesting quote last night on the situation, saying that while "there are a lot of moving parts," the team "would love to figure something out." Sounds like a situation to keep an eye out for.

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