Erik Jones found out Thursday morning his deal with Joe Gibbs Racing would not be extended for 2021, and it was something that “blindsided” him a bit.
In a contract year with Gibbs, the 24-year-old thought he was going to remain in the No. 20 Toyota based on how talks were going. Instead, Jones will leave the team after three seasons.
“I didn’t really expect it coming from our talks, I thought we were moving in a good direction,” Jones said during the NBC Sports pre-race show at Michigan. “At the end of the day, I’ve had a great, really, eight years almost with Joe Gibbs Racing between Xfinity and Cup, and I’m thankful for that time. It’s good to see the support that’s been out there the last few days on social media and everybody that’s coming out in support; it’s been awesome.
“We’ve got a great few opportunities out there, which has been good to see. Over the next few weeks, hopefully, we can have some good talks, so excited about that. Excited about the next 15 races, too.”
Jones has two NASCAR Cup Series wins with Gibbs and made the playoffs in 2018 and ’19. He is the first driver below the playoff cutline going into the second race of a Michigan doubleheader, 16 points behind William Byron.
Since impressing Kyle Busch in a late model race in 2012, Jones has been tied to the Toyota family. He competed for Busch in the Truck Series and won the 2015 championship before moving into a Gibbs seat in the Xfinity Series and then in the Cup Series.
“It’s a lot different spot,” said Jones. “After we won that first truck race in Phoenix (in 2013), I was kind of on a plan, and it really worked out really well all the way up to the 20 car. It’s a lot different situation. I’ve got great people behind me working with me.
“It’s been a hectic few days in trying to start working on things for next year, but it’s also an opportunity to take a foundation that we built the last few years and start to build from that. It’s unfortunate in one way, but it’s exciting in another too.”
It has yet to be announced who will replace Jones at Joe Gibbs Racing, but the expectation is that it will be Christopher Bell. Two days before Gibbs and Jones announced they would part ways, Bob Leavine, who currently fields a car for Bell, announced he had sold his team and was leaving NASCAR at the end of the season.