Richard Petty Motorsports hired Erik Jones on Wednesday to replace Bubba Wallace in the No. 43 Chevrolet for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Jones, who signed a multiyear deal with RPM, makes the move from Joe Gibbs Racing, which informed him Aug. 6 he would not return to the No. 20 Toyota next season. The move brings Jones in line with the Chevrolet camp after a long tenure with Toyota, which first brought him to the NASCAR national series level in 2013. It also aligns him with NASCAR’s all-time wins leader and the car number he made famous.
“Yeah, it’s definitely iconic,” Jones said. “You look at the history of NASCAR and the 43, everybody knows who Richard Petty is if they’re a race fan. And even if they aren’t a race fan, a lot of people know who Richard Petty is. So, that’s really neat. Having the chance to get to spend some time with him the last couple of weeks has been pretty cool. I’d never really gotten the chance to talk too much with him and spend a lot of time with him, other than in passing. So, it’s just really cool to hear the old stories. I’m a really big fan of the history of the sport and to get to hear some of the stories first-hand is a pretty cool experience. It’s really neat to see how invested he is in the team, in the sport and the direction we’re going. I think that’s going to be a really good match.”
Jones is in his fourth full season of Cup Series competition. His upbringing through the NASCAR national series ranks came under the auspices of Toyota Racing Development after two-time Cup Series champion Kyle Busch recruited him from the Late Model ranks. That led to 18 national series wins, including the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series title in 2015.
Since Jones became a Cup Series regular in 2017, he has won twice, both times at historic tracks. His breakthrough victory came at Daytona International Speedway in July 2018, and he added a Southern 500 triumph last year at Darlington Raceway.
“Erik is an exceptionally talented driver, and we are excited to have him join our team,” said Brian Moffitt, chief executive officer at Richard Petty Motorsports. “At only 24 years old, Erik is part of NASCAR’s next generation of stars. He has won races at every level in NASCAR he has competed in — including in the NASCAR Cup Series. Erik is a proven winner and we look forward to providing him with the opportunity to add more wins to his already impressive resume.”
This season, Jones remains winless after missing the cut-off for the 16-driver playoff picture. He had qualified for the postseason in each of the last two years.
Four days after Jones was notified about his impending departure, Joe Gibbs Racing hired Christopher Bell as his replacement in the No. 20 ride. Bell, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate in 2020, moves over from JGR affiliate Leavine Family Racing, which will close at season’s end.
Jones replaces Wallace, who announced Sept. 21 he will join a new team co-owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan and fellow NASCAR star Denny Hamlin in 2021. Wallace made his Cup Series debut in 2017 with Richard Petty Motorsports, driving as an interim replacement for the injured Aric Almirola, who had suffered a broken back in a crash that May at Kansas Speedway.
Crew chief Jerry Baxter will continue to lead the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team in 2021 with Jones. It will be a reunion of sorts for Baxter and Jones, who have their connection through Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Gander Trucks for three seasons.
“Yeah, it makes things simpler. I’m not going in blind by any means,” Jones says. “I know Jerry pretty well. I haven’t worked with him as a crew chief of my own, but when I was at KBM, he was obviously there and working at KBM on the other Trucks. I know Jerry and have met and talked to him quite a bit. I actually already talked to him a little bit the last week or so after we were getting really close on getting this deal signed. He’s really excited – I’m excited to work with Jerry.
“He’s been around for a long time in the sport – has a lot of knowledge, a lot of know-how and I think what he’s done at RPM has been pretty impressive too. I think it will be an easy transition. We get to skip kind of the awkward introduction stage and we can go right into working on the race cars and kind of what we’re going to look for in each other and the team to go out and be strong right off the bat at Daytona.”
Richard Petty Motorsports’ most recent win came in July 2014, when Almirola drove to victory at Daytona.