Silly Season Heats Up

Steve Mickey, NASCAR Columnist

It’s that time of the Sprint Cup season that the rumor mill begins to heat up about where some drivers may end up for the 2017 years. Owners know that it is not just enough for a driver to have the necessary skills that it takes to win races and run for championship, he must also be able to become the face and spokesperson for a sponsor.

It also doesn’t hurt if the driver already has a relationship established with an owner’s manufacturer. Teams know that they must have support from their manufacturer if they want to become competitive and manufacturers know that a relationship with the right driver will go a long way in selling their cars.

Erik Jones who now drives for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity driver has emerged as one of the most talked about drivers that may be making the move up to the Sprint Cup series for next season. Jones has won in the Xfinity Series and is contending for the title which reflects the talent that he has to make the move up to the next level.

Jones’s is definitely one of the most talented young drivers in the sport and both Gibbs and his manufacturer Toyota do not want to see him move to another owner and manufacturer for next season. JGR already fields the maximum number of four Cup teams so if he is going to make the move up to the Cup level in 2017 he will have to move to another organization.

Toyota has already said that it does not want to see Jones in a Ford or Chevrolet and that it would help find Jones a ride in the Cup Series. That ride may be with Furniture Row Racing that now only campaigns one Toyota team with driver Martin Truex Jr. The team is based in Denver Colorado and has a strong relationship with both Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Furniture Row’s General Manager Joe Garone said in an interview last week that the organization is still looking to add a second team for 2017 and that some of the pieces needed to make that happen have started to come together. The biggest piece that would have to come together would be continued technical support from JGR and added support from Toyota.

Furniture Row and Truex have used their relationship with JGR to become one of the upper tier teams in the sport and there is no reason why the addition of Jones would do anything but make that organization stronger. The only thing that apparently now standing in the way of Jones making the move to Furniture Row is the signing of a major sponsor.

Furniture Rowe will receive help in finding some more sponsorship dollars from both Gibbs and Toyota as both would benefit finding a home for Jones and in the process continue to groom him for what they think could be a highly successful career. It would lock up one of the greatest young talents in the Xfinity Series and would keep him available for the day when a seat comes open at JGR.

PIT NOTES: Drivers and owners are not the only one making plans for next season as NASCAR has already released some changes for 2017. Race times for next season have been tweaked somewhat with many of the races seeing a later starting time than this season. Only the June Dover race and the October Martinsville race will see the green flag wave at 1:00. The Martinsville race is the only one that will have to go against the 1:00 NFL kickoff times which is something that NASCAR tries to stay away from. In addition to some new start times, NASCAR will also introduce a new lower downforce package that it has tried out this season at Kentucky and Michigan and will be used when the series goes back to Michigan for its second race of the season. The sanction body will collect all the data from this season before it announces the final changes to be used next season.

Race Preview

Event: Chez-It 355 at The Glen

Track: Watkins Glen International (2.45-mile road course with 11 turns of 6o -10o of banking)

Date: August 7, 2:30 pm


Radio: MRN

Defending Race Winner: Joey Logano

Steve Mickey, NASCAR Columnist

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