By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
After three seasons, Erik Jones tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series will come to an end following the 2020 season.
The confirmation of Jones no longer being welcomed in the No. 20 Toyota Camry was first confirmed Thursday by NASCAR Race Hub‘s Shannon Spake before JGR sealed its official fate to the public that 2021 will have a new driver a few hours later.
“We appreciate all Erik has done for Joe Gibbs Racing over the past several year,” said Joe Gibbs. “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.
With the No. 20 vacant for the 2021 campaign, rumors immediately suggests current Leavine Family Racing driver Christopher Bell will be taking the helm.
Earlier this week, LFR owner Bob Leavine said he’ll put his race team up for sale, leaving the Rookie of the Year contender without a ride. This created further speculations about Jones’ 2021 status and with Thursday’s confirmation about his departure, a top ride has become available.
Following the announcement of being let go after this season, Jones issued a statement:
“I greatly appreciate the opportunity JGR provided me over the last four years, and I wish the team nothing but success and good fortune,” said Jones. “JGR gave me a solid base from which to go out and compete at the highest level, and I look forward to building on that foundation in the years to come.”
Jones joined JGR in 2014 when he drove a partial Xfinity Series schedule for two years while running full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series where he’d captured the 2015 title.
In that same championship year, Jones ran three races in the Cup Series, filling in for an injured Kyle Busch at Kansas and the suspended Matt Kenseth at both Texas and Phoenix, finishing no better than 12th at Texas.
The following year, the Byron, Michigan native would win Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year honors after scoring four wins and making it to the Championship 4 where he wound up fourth in the final standings.
In 2017, Jones would make the full-time jump to the top level, but spent his rookie campaign in JGR’s satellite team, Furniture Row Racing, where he won a pole at the Bristol Night Race and became the first driver to win all three national touring series Rookie of the Year honors.
That fall, Joe Gibbs announced that Jones would replace 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 Toyota, signaling his true arrival. In those three seasons, whether its his two Cup wins, including an amazing performance in last year’s Southern 500, or bringing home a mangled car to victory lane in this year’s Busch Clash at Daytona, Jones has shown flashes of brilliance.
However, flashes of brilliance wasn’t enough to maintain his ride for a fourth straight season as Jones is currently 18th in the standings, 16 points behind Tyler Reddick of making the playoffs with just six regular season races remaining.
Ed Laukes, Toyota Motor North America’s Group Vice President of Marketing, commented about Jones’ impact to the car manufacturer that gave him his big break in NASCAR back in 2013.
“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,” said Laukes. “Unfortunately, the time has come that we have to part ways from a competitive standpoint. We know Erik will continue to do great things in this sport and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors. We will certainly continue to follow his career and will be there to congratulate him as he continues to succeed.”
Time will tell where Jones will end up next season and who’ll also pilot the No. 20 Toyota, an entry that’s won two championships with Tony Stewart in 2002 and 2005. Not only that, the individual that gets the ride will be joining two-time Cup Series champion Busch, 2017 Cup champ Martin Truex, Jr., and three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. No doubt, an elite team that expects wins and titles.