NASCAR

Joe Gibbs Conundrum: What to Do with NASCAR Truck Series Champ Erik Jones

FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 10:  Erik Jones, driver of the #20 GameStop/Mortal Kombat X Toyota, and team owner Joe Gibbs pose with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 10, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2016

Erik Jones hasn’t even officially started his first full season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and already he’s created somewhat of a conundrum at Joe Gibbs Racing.

The 19-year-old Jones is coming off winning the 2015 championship in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. His immense talent and the success he achieved prompted JGR to promote him to the Xfinity Series.

That’s all fine and good.

But what happens if Jones continues to have similar success in NASCAR’s primary minor league? How long will JGR be able to keep him down on the farm, so to speak, before he’ll be ready to compete in the Sprint Cup Series?

Might that be one year? Two years? Three years at the most?

And what happens when Jones IS finally ready to make the jump to Sprint Cup? Where would he fit in the JGR stable?

That’s the biggest problem of all right now, as currently there is no room in the JGR Sprint Cup stable. NASCAR allows each team a maximum of four drivers, and JGR is full-up with Denny Hamlin, defending Sprint Cup champ Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.

That being said, there is a possibility Kenseth—who turns 44 on March 10—could retire in the next two to three years, even though the Wisconsin native has said nothing about if or when he’ll hang up his fire suit for good.

But Kenseth is in the same age wheelhouse as Jeff Gordon, who retired at the end of last season at the age of 44, and Tony Stewart, who will retire at the end of the 2016 season at the age of 45.

And if Kenseth does retire—whether voluntarily or if he’s, shall we say, gently pushed—the time should be ready for Jones to jump to Sprint Cup.

But can you keep an immense talent like Jones in the Xfinity Series for three more years? One year, yes. Two years, maybe.

Three? Highly unlikely.

If Jones wants to advance to the Cup series before Kenseth is ready to retire—or if any of the other three JGR drivers decide to potentially leave the organization—where does that leave JGR then?

Would all the investment it made in Jones ultimately go for naught if he jumps to another team that would have an open Sprint Cup seat for him?

Here’s another dilemma: What happens if by some happenstance Jones wins the Xfinity Series championship in 2016 or 2017?

What then? Can JGR keep Jones in the Xfinity Series for another year or two after that? And what happens if he wins two Xfinity titles in a row?

How in the world could it possibly justify keeping him in the Xfinity Series for a third straight year—and potentially a third straight championship?

In a way, having a talent like Jones is a good problem to have. But having a talent who is too good to hold back, well, that’s a whole other problem—and not a good problem at that.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.

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