This story originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. Read the full digital edition.

Each month Mile High Sports Magazine sits down with an important figure in Colorado sports. For February, Doug Ottewill spoke with the 20-year-old driver of Denver-based Furniture Row Racing’s new No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry, Erik Jones. Here’s what Jones had to say about making the leap to NASCAR’s top circuit and his new team, Furniture Row Racing…

DO: First off, just walk us through the phone call when you got the invite to join up with the Furniture Row Racing team…

EJ: Well it was kind of a long process. It started out with me being at Joe Gibbs Racing and transitioning to Furniture Row to start a second team. So when we did finally get the call that we were going to start a second team, that you get to drive for them, it’s pretty exciting to get the opportunity to run in the Cup Series – not only that but for a team that came off of a really strong season. So, I was really pumped up. It was definitely a phone call that every up-and-coming race car driver wants to get at some point, and to get it so early on in my career, it was pretty surreal.

You’ve obviously got a lot of experience in other circuits – with the Camping World Truck Series, with Joe Gibbs Racing and the Xfinity Series. You’ve even had three Cup starts. What’s the same? You know, racing is racing. And what’s incredibly different? After all, this is the most-competitive, highest-profile series in racing.

Well it’s just a big step up. I think the biggest change is the competition level, because you’ve got so many guys that can win the race every weekend and so many good cars, and even the guys who aren’t even in the best cars are really good drivers. So everybody’s got a lot of good talent and there are so many more cars to win in the Xfinity Series or the Truck Series that it just makes it tougher. But I’ve noticed in the three races that I’ve ran, even the Cup Series and now transitioning into the full time role, it’ll just give me more of an opportunity to hopefully be able to adapt to that level and rise to the occasion and figure out what I got to do better and do different to compete with those guys week in and week out.

What are your early impressions of the Furniture Row team?

With Furniture Row Racing, it’s got that small team feel, which is nice. Coming from Joe Gibbs Racing, which was such a huge organization, coming over to Furniture Row was kind of a nice. It’s a refreshing thing to see such a tidy program have success on the race track. Just to be able to know all of the guys on such a personal level, it’s really nice. With JGR I wasn’t able to know all the guys in the shop, and here at Furniture Row I get a chance to know everyone. So that’s pretty neat. I think it’s something that Chris Gayle, my crew chief for this year, really liked when he came out and saw Furniture Row for the first time – just that small team feel and being able to make (things happen) just a little bit quicker than what a large team would be able to do.

Did you, or will you, have a “first question” for [Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota Camry driver] Martin Truex Jr.? What was it or what will it be?

No, not really. I’ve met Martin a few times and chatted with him, so I don’t think I’ll have any questions for him until I dive into it. I think the biggest thing – first and foremost – is to talk about super speedway racing with him before we go to Daytona. I’ve never ran a Cup car on a super speedway. There’s a lot of things that are different from the Xfinity or the truck series, so I think having someone to lean on is going to be pretty valuable for me. I think that’s going to be the biggest thing that will come up first is to just learn more about super speedway racing before we get there.

How are you balancing your new role with Furniture Row while still competing in the Xfinity Series?

Obviously it’s more on my plate than just running in the Cup car, running the Xfinity Series as well. But I think next year it’ll be a pretty big help for me just being in two cars during the weekend and having that extra seat time and being able to learn the track a little more. Most of these tracks I’ve been to a couple of times. So any time I can get more time on the track and figure them out more and more and keep up with it better throughout the weekend, I think that’s a pretty big advantage for any driver really.

You know, it’s funny, it was really only four years ago that you were even eligible for a driver’s license. Now you’re driving in the world’s most-competitive racing series. Has that really even registered?

Yeah. It is a short amount of time and I’ve been racing for a long time, obviously not at this level. I didn’t start NASCAR until I was about 16, and that was because they’d only changed the rules that year to make it so that at age 16 you can drive in the truck series. So, it hasn’t been long since I’ve started out, in NASCAR in general, and it’s been a pretty quick rise for myself which has been exciting. It’s sinking in more and more every day. The few times I’ve been out here to Furniture Row Racing, it’s made it sink in even more. But it’s just a neat opportunity for me, and at 20 it’s something I never thought I’d be doing at this point [in my life]. I would’ve hoped I was racing and my goal was to just make a living out of it, and to be out here racing in the Cup Series full time is just pretty surreal for me.

What do you drive in everyday life?

I have a Lexus RC F that Toyota was pretty generous to help me out with. It’s a pretty sweet car that I had to beg them for.

Have you had a chance to spend any time in Colorado? If so, what are your impressions?

Colorado is nice. It’s a little bit like home in Michigan, weather-wise. But obviously Michigan has got the rolling hills, not the mountains – and they’re pretty awesome. Marty was kind enough to take me up the mountains and show me around a little bit the few times I was here and it’s pretty nice. I definitely see why somebody would want to live out here. It’s beautiful during the day; it’s fun to travel to the mountains.

Around racing, what do people think about a Colorado-based NASCAR team? Especially one that’s been highly successful of late? What will be going through your head when you line up at Daytona?

I think everybody in the sport thinks having a Colorado-based team is neat. I think it’s pretty impressive to everyone that someone can run a team out of Colorado, and not only run it, but be successful. That’s a challenge in itself. We’re the only team that’s not based out of Charlotte or [the] surrounding areas, which is surprising. I think it’s unique.

I like to think I’ve always done things a little bit different, but when I joined Furniture Row I feel like it just kind of fit and they like to do things a little bit differently obviously, being out here in Colorado, which is cool. I think it’s neat that a team that can do it all and be successful doing it.

Do you have any specific goals for yourself as you begin this chapter in your life?

For myself, I’d love to just win one race and make the Chase. I think if I can do that this year then I’d be happy. The Cup series is a big transition. You see a lot of rookies struggle, and you see a lot of rookies do well. It’s going to go one of two ways, and I’d love to be on the side of hopefully succeeding at some point. We like to keep our goals somewhat modest. It’s my first year in the series and trying to adjust, but at the same time everybody at Furniture Row is expecting a win and to at least make the Chase, so I hope we can do that – I know we can as a team.

Last question, and this is very important. NASCAR is now sponsored by Monster Energy Drinks. Your car is sponsored by 5-hour ENERGY. When you crack open the ‘fridge, what do we find, and do you ever go to sleep?

Unfortunately, most of the time, there is not a lot of stuff in my refrigerator besides some milk and water, but I did get pretty stocked up on Five Hour Energy and they’ve been pretty generous to me. I don’t really sleep – not that I really need to, but I still try and get some hours in.