NASCAR driver Erik Jones and the Joe Gibbs Racing team announced Thursday that the current No. 20 driver would be parting ways with the organization after the season.
“We appreciate all Erik has done for Joe Gibbs Racing over the past several years,” team owner Joe Gibbs said in a statement. “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.”
The driver most likely to replace Jones in 2021 is Cup Series rookie Christopher Bell, who is losing his seat in the No. 95 Toyota Camry at Leavine Family Racing next year following the sale of his team by current owner Bob Leavine. Bell was confirmed as the new driver for JGR’s No. 20 Toyota Camry next season, according to a report by The Athletic Thursday evening, but the deal has not been officially announced.
Both Jones and Bell are considered young talents who came up through NASCAR’s national series through the Gibbs-Toyota pipeline. Bell, 25, is a Toyota developmental driver who won the Truck Series championship with Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2017. He advanced to the Xfinity Series the following year driving for JGR full-time until signing with LFR, which has a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, for the 2020 season.
Jones, 24, charted a similar path, winning the Truck Series championship in 2015 with Kyle Busch Motorsports before moving through Xfinity Series full-time with JGR the following year, in which he was named the Rookie of the Year. In 2017, he joined the Cup Series driving for now-defunct Furniture Row Racing, and was named the Cup Rookie of the Year, before retuning to JGR full-time for the 2018 season. He’s made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons with JGR, by winning a race at Daytona in 2018 and a race at Darlington in 2019.
He goes to his home track of Michigan International Speedway this weekend ranked 18th in the Cup standings and trying to work his way into playoff contention. Jones is also in a contract year but Gibbs has long has a backlog of young drivers and will likely replace Jones in 2021 with Christopher Bell.
“Erik has been an incredible friend to Toyota throughout the last eight years. We’ve become close not only to Erik, but to his entire family. We’ve celebrated together, we’ve cried together and we’ve supported each other through it all,” a statement from Ed Laukes, Vice President of Toyota Motor Marketing, said. “Unfortunately, the time has come that we have to part ways from a competitive standpoint.”
Jones does not yet have an official race win this season, although he won the non-points preseason Busch Clash race earlier this year. He enters the weekend at Michigan International Speedway, his home track, ranked 18th in points, two places below the 16-driver cutoff for playoffs.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)