Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Erik Jones circles summertime decision date for firming up 2023 plans

CONCORD, N.C. — Though it’s only halfway through the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, with 23 races in total left to go, the mystery is already thickening about what next year’s driver roster might look like. Prime among those in the potential free-agency blend sits Erik Jones, who is in his second season driving the No. 43 Chevrolet but in his first campaign wheeling it for the recently merged Petty GMS Motorsports group.

Jones — who turns 26 on Memorial Day — offered a glimpse at a potential timetable for getting a deal done for 2023. His update came after he qualified 25th for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM) at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Spring will soon turn to summer, and the clock is slowly churning toward decision time.

“I mean, it’s what — end of May, almost June? I mean, by late July, August, I’d like to have something going already for next year,” Jones said. “You get past that, and it just kind of gets to be a burden for both ends, you know. Burden for me, burden for the team, so if I could get something done by then, I mean, that’d be pretty cool.”

The timing of Jones’ confirmed return to Richard Petty’s No. 43 came last year with an Aug. 22 announcement. His status didn’t change when the team underwent an offseason merger with Maury Gallagher’s GMS Racing, forming a two-car operation with Ty Dillon as a new teammate in the No. 42 Chevy.

His re-up in 2021 marked the latest in a series of one-year deals, which included his time under the Toyota banner with Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones said a new deal that had the security of a two-year term or more ranked as a wish-list item.

“I wouldn’t be mad,” Jones said with a laugh. “Obviously, I’ve lived year to year for, I don’t know what, three years now, maybe? Something like that. So having a multiyear deal would be something I would like to have. It at least gives some comfort, knowing what you’ve got going on for a while and to be able to continue just to build the program, continue to work toward one goal with everybody. The team kind of relies on that, too, you know. They see that stuff and want to keep working with multi-years like that.”

Jones ranks 17th in the Cup Series standings, seven spots better than where he was at this time last year. He’s shown some glimmers or restoring the No. 43 to its past glory this season — a pristine third-place run at Auto Club Speedway and a near-victory that slipped away in the final lap at Talladega Superspeedway.

Jones has two Cup Series wins in his career, but none since his Southern 500 triumph in 2019 at Darlington. He’s in the midst of his sixth full season at NASCAR’s top level and indicated there’s still plenty he wants to accomplish.

“I want to go for a while still in the Cup Series. There’s a lot of stuff I still want to do,” Jones says. “I’ve been able to come here and win a couple races, which has been great, and that’s always your first goal, but still want to win more races. The championship is always the ultimate goal and I feel like, you know, the right group, we can make that happen someday.”