Erik Jones wasn’t looking for a new beginning but that’s what he’ll have with his NASCAR Cup Series career in 2021.
Since he debuted in his first NASCAR national series race at the age of 16 during the 2013 Truck Series season, Jones’ entire career has involved Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota and driver Kyle Busch.
That all will change in 2021 as Jones becomes the driver of Richard Petty Motorsports’ iconic No. 43 Chevrolet, replacing Bubba Wallace, who is moving to a new team.
A fresh start
Jones wasn’t looking for change, but circumstances left him as odd man out at JGR and he’s ready for a fresh start.
“I feel re-invigorated more than anything – just excited to get the year started. Not lying and being totally truthful, I probably haven’t been this excited since my rookie year – coming into the Cup Series and just having a fresh start, a new group, something to build and roll together with is fun for me,” Jones, 24, said.
“When you feel like you’re really bringing something to an organization, that’s rewarding and I’ve felt that so far in being at RPM – just feeling valued, wanted and that I can bring something to the table in myself, help improve and, as a group, grow and get better.
“I think that’s probably, more than anything, more exciting for me and what’s energized me to get the season started.”
Jones has racked up a stellar record in a relatively short period of time in NASCAR.
He won seven Truck races and a series championship by age 19, won nine Xfinity Series races and a pair of Cup Series races, his first at age 22. His highest series points finish in Cup was 15th in 2018.
From JGR to RPM
The transition from one of NASCAR’s top organizations to one of its smaller teams will be another significant change for Jones, but he said he’s already tried to get acclimated to his new surroundings.
“I’ve been to the shop a lot. I was actually up there (Tuesday) morning doing some stuff, checking things out and doing some final fitting stuff in the car itself,” Jones said. “For me, it’s encouraging just seeing the alliance that they have with (Richard Childress Racing). I actually went down and saw their shop – I hadn’t been to RCR up until (Tuesday).
“So, just to see all that stuff – see what they’re totally capable of is really encouraging. I’ve had a lot of conversations with Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) about the car and the engineers about what I like in a race car, what I like before the race, as far as pre-race driver reports and information for myself.
“So, there’s a ton of stuff to go over and we’re still going over a lot of stuff, and there’s going to be more to go over after Christmas and New Year’s – everyone is going to take a couple weeks off here.”
Jones is eligible to compete in the preseason Busch Clash in 2021, which will give him an early test with his new team.
With the recent addition of the Daytona Road Course to the Cup Series schedule to replace the canceled race at Fontana, Calif., the race will take on added significance.
“It was going to be big either way – thinking about going there and not really having any practice. Just getting in a new car, there’s going to be a lot of different things – from the way the motor runs, brakes, steering, everything is going to be totally different for me,” Jones said.
“So, just being able to get on track, have some laps on something other than the superspeedway at Daytona. Especially a road course, you have to really try out every system in your car. So, I think that’s going to be really important.
“There’s going to be stuff that’s different for me, obviously, and different for the team – a new driver for them and every driver has different preferences, feels, and things they want out of a car. So, it’s going to be pretty big for both of us.”
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