Erik Jones believes new race format will help rookie Cup drivers

Monster Energy Cup Series cars have changed a ton since the last time rookie Erik Jones was behind the wheel of one.

Jones drove the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for Kyle Busch at Kansas Speedway in the spring of 2015 while Busch was recovering from a serious leg injury.

He also took over the No. 20 car for Matt Kenseth at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway later that year, as Kenseth was suspended for two races after intentionally wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville.

But after shaking down his new No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota for the first time in a two-day organizational test session at Phoenix, he realized just how much the Cup cars have changed.

“My experience in a Cup car is totally different than what they drive like now,” Jones said. “I don’t have a lot of experience to lean on. It’s a lot different. This is the second time I’ve driven the low-downforce package. It’s a little bit more challenging overall to driver than what the XFINITY cars are, or what the previous packages were on the Cup cars in 2015.”

Aside from trying to get a handle on the new aerodynamics package for the 2017 season, Jones has another big task ahead of him with a new team and new faces.

“It’s tough to learn names at first anytime you get a new group,” said Jones. “On the Cup side, the teams are so big, it’s challenging to get to know everybody this quick. I’m still doing my best to learn their names and figure everything out. I think we’ll be set and ready to go by the time we get to Daytona.”

“As a group, this No. 77 group is getting used to working with each other,” he added. “Everybody is figuring out their jobs and everyone is figuring out their place. I think the biggest thing we’ve been working on is just getting used to the new car and getting used to communicating with the team in general again.”

Jones will battle for Rookie of the Year honors with former JGR XFINITY Series teammate, Daniel Suarez, and Germain Racing’s Ty Dillon.

All three drivers have a huge learning curve ahead of them in 2017, not only with new cars and teams, but also with a different race format and points system following NASCAR’s major enhancements.

But according to Jones, a new race format could be an advantage for the rookie class.

“Honestly, I look at it as it’s going to help because the everyone is on a level playing field,” Jones said. “Nobody has experience with it, not just Daniel, Ty or myself. Everyone is on that same field. We’re all going to be learning it at the same time.”

“Does it add another element that we didn’t expect? Yeah, sure,” he added. “But at the end of the day, you’re still racing and you’re still trying to put yourself in the best spot that you can.”