After three seasons of NASCAR Cup Series racing together, Erik Jones and Joe Gibbs Racing will part ways at the end of the 2020 season. On Thursday, amid speculation about the driver’s future, the two parties confirmed they have mutually agreed to split up.
“We appreciate all Erik has done for Joe Gibbs Racing over the past several years,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “He joined us as a teenager and has accomplished so much in his time here and we remain focused on the remainder of this season and earning him a spot in the playoffs.”
Entering his Cup rookie season in 2017, Jones was one of Gibbs’ rising stars, having won the 2015 Truck Series championship and reaching the Championship Round in the 2016 Xfinity Series. Jones had even made his Cup début during his Truck title campaign as a substitute driver.
Jones’ rookie season took place with the now-defunct JGR ally Furniture Row Racing. Driving the #77, he recorded fourteen top-ten finishes and a pole as he finished nineteenth in points and won Rookie of the Year honours. After Matt Kenseth lost the #20 JGR ride, Jones moved up to the parent organisation in 2018, a year that saw him win his first Cup race at the summer Daytona International Speedway event. He is the thirtieth driver in NASCAR history to win a race in each of the sanctioning body’s three national series.
After a fifteenth-place points finish in his first year with JGR, he reached the playoffs again in 2019 with a win in Darlington Raceway‘s famed Southern 500 in his 100th career Cup start. He was eliminated after one round and ended the season in sixteenth, but increased his laps led and top fives. He signed a contract extension days after his Southern 500 victory.
The 24-year-old Michigan native opened 2020 on a strong note by winning a chaotic Busch Clash, but currently sits eighteenth in the standings after twenty races with eight top tens and a best finish of third at Pocono Raceway. Jones is the lowest-ranked JGR driver in the championship, with his team-mates all in the top ten as he continues to fight for a playoff spot.
“I greatly appreciate the opportunity that JGR provided me with over the last four years and I wish the team nothing but success and good fortune,” Jones commented. “JGR gave me a solid foundation from which to go out and compete at the highest level and I look forward to building on that in the years to come.”
A successor was not immediately named, but many expect another JGR prospect in rookie Christopher Bell to take over the #20. Bell’s Leavine Family Racing team was sold earlier in the week, and it is not unreasonable to assume the Oklahoman is next in line for Jones’ seat.
Jones’ 2021 plans are unknown, but various rides including Chip Ganassi Racing‘s #42 and Hendrick Motorsports‘ #48 remain available.