Erik Jones is embracing the new environment he’ll be in with Richard Petty Motorsports as the sole focus of a single-car team.
“I think it’s great; that was one of the things that when RPM reached out, I was excited about,” said Jones. “The cool part is I’ll have the chance to get to know everybody at RPM – everybody that’s working on the car in the shop and getting it to the racetrack. Coming from (Joe Gibbs Racing), I never got the chance to meet everybody. It’s a pretty big company, and there’s a lot of people that I never had the chance to really interact with too much.”
Jones said his new-for-2021 surrounds will harken back to the early days of his career racing with his family and coming from a small town. Richard Petty Motorsports has less than 50 people in its organization.
“Just having one voice, which is mine and Jerry (Baxter, crew chief), to kind of lead the team in the direction we think we need to go, I think is going to be a good thing,” said Jones.
The 24-year-old was announced as the next driver of the famed No. 43 Chevrolet early Wednesday. Having landed in the Toyota camp as a teenager, Jones is not only joining a new team, but embarking on a new part of his career without the support of Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones started his NASCAR Cup Series career in one of the two Gibbs satellite cars at Furniture Row Racing before replacing Matt Kenseth three seasons ago in the four-car Gibbs stable.
Jones is being replaced by Christopher Bell, and his free agency began in August. RPM started to become a pretty clear choice as Silly Season started to ramp up, and while Jones said he talked to various teams, what meant a lot to him was that the Petty organization reached out to him.
“As a driver and a person, you want to be somewhere where you’re wanted,” said Jones. “RPM showed that interest right off the bat when they were looking for a driver, and I thought that was really encouraging. Like I said, you want to be somewhere where you’re wanted, you’re appreciated, and I think RPM is definitely going to be that place.”
It’ll be a fresh start for both sides as Jones moves on from Joe Gibbs, and Petty sees Darrell Wallace Jr. move on from its car after three seasons. Jones has two career wins and two playoff appearances, while Petty hasn’t won since 2014 or been inside the top 20 in points since 2015.
“I think it was just good time for (both) of us,” said Jones. “They were moving on and looking for a new driver, and I was looking for a new team. Just common goals and common interests, I think, that really matched up between both of our groups going into (free agency). I think they’re more motivated than ever to continue to grow their program, and they’ve been heading in such a good direction the last few years. They are so close to taking the next step, and they wanted to find somebody on the same path.
“I feel like I’m kind of in that same spot where we’ve been really close, we’ve won races, and I want to win more. So, I think that’s a really good joining of two groups coming together now that are going to be able to go out and really go for a common goal and have one focused effort on it. That’s really the part I’m most excited about.”