Joe Gibbs Racing announced Thursday that it will not resign driver Erik Jones for 2021. Jones, who was on a one-year contract extension, drives the No. 20 Toyota car for JGR.
Owner Joe Gibbs didn’t give a reason for not bringing the 24-year-old Jones back to a team that includes Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin. Gibbs did thank Jones in a statement.
“We appreciate all Erik has done for Joe Gibbs Racing over the past several years,” 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.”
Jones said in a team release he was grateful for being a part of the JGR team.
“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 said. “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.”
What’s Next for Jones?
Thus far in 2020, Jones hasn’t been able to duplicate the success he had in 2018 and 2019. Jones, who is in his fourth full season, has seven top-10 finishes in Cup Series races this year. His best finish is third at the Pocono 350 on June 28.
Jones is still in the hunt for the Cup Series Playoff. The top 16 get into the playoffs, which begin Sept. 6 at the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Jones is currently 18th, 31 points below the cutline. He told reporters before the Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway two weeks ago that he wants to take more risks in the seven remaining races before the playoffs.
“It’s a performance industry and we’ve been able to make the playoffs the last two years. I feel confident still that we’re going to make them this year,” Jones said. “It’s frustrating when you’re in that spot and I don’t feel like all of what we’ve done to be in this spot is our own doing.”
Even if Jones doesn’t make the playoffs, there should be no shortage of teams looking to sign him. Hendrick Motorsports needs to replace Jimmie Johnson, and Chip Ganassi will probably looking to fill the fired Kyle Larsen’s No. 42 car after the season.
Door Open for Christopher Bell?
With Jones not returning to JGR, speculation has been flying about who will replace him. The name mentioned the most is Christopher Bell. The developmental driver for Toyota will be without a team after this year. His current team, Leavine Family Racing announced on Tuesday they are selling the team because of financial hardship.
Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson went on Sirius/XM NASCAR radio on Wednesday and seemed to infer Bell would be taking over for Jones.
“I think this is widely known, part of the partnership, part of the way LFR worked was a technical alliance, a hardware reliance on Joe Gibbs Racing,” Wilson said. “Those cars are leased, they’re not owned by Bob (Leavine) and the team. Those go back to Joe Gibbs Racing. What I can tell you is that as soon as we became aware of this problem, Joe and I have been working very closely, very aggressively, every day. It’s what’s keeping me awake every night right now, trying to figure out if we can adapt, if we can come up with a bridge to get us another year down the road.”