Erik Jones was 21st in Sunday afternoon’s season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but that was enough for Rookie of the Year at Furniture Row Racing with its technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Jones ended the 36-race season with one pole, no victories, five top-five finishes, 14 top-10 finishes and 19th in final points. The 21-year-old driver from Byron, Michigan, beat Daniel Suárez of Mexico under a point system that factors in starts, finish positions, stage points, season points and a “behavior” clause. Ty Dillon was a distant third in the three-man scrap for the rookie honor.
Suárez, the defending Xfinity Series champion who replaced Carl Edwards at JGR, had no poles or victories, one top-five finish, 12 top-10 finishes and was 20th in Cup Series points in his No. 19 Toyota. Each finished ahead of the other 18 times during the season. On Sunday, when Jones was a mediocre 21st, Suárez was even worse, finishing 34th with a mechanical DNF. They’ll be teammates next year, joining Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I’m proud that we had a rookie crew chief and a rookie driver (on what essentially was a startup team), and were able to have a strong season,” said Jones, who drove the No. 77 Toyota as a teammate to Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. “We competed for some wins along the way (third at Pocono and Michigan, and second at Bristol) and won Rookie of the Year. This was one of our goals, and it’s nice to close it out with it. It’s something to be proud of for all of us.”
But it may not matter in the long run. More often than not, the rookie award doesn’t ensure long-term success in NASCAR. Among those who didn’t win it: series champions Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Dale Jarrett, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Labonte and Terry Labonte.
On the other hand, former champions Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Alan Kulwicki won it.
In recent years, the award has been a mixed bag. Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Joey Logano, Regan Smith, Juan Pablo Montoya, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurry have enjoyed some success. Not so for ROTY winners Brian Moffit, Stephen Leicht, Andy Lally and Kevin Conway, none of whom made any sort of impact in the Cup Series.
Jones is scheduled to run the full Cup schedule next year for JGR in the No. 20 Toyota that Kenseth is leaving. The plans right now are for the No. 77 Toyota team to go away unless team owner Barney Visser can find a sponsor.
“It’s unfortunate,” Jones said of shuttering the ROTY team. “I feel like we’ve built a competitive team, one definitely capable of winning races. It’s unfortunate they couldn’t get a driver and get everything tog