By Cole Cusumano
When it comes to competing alongside some of the most esteemed figures in sports history, it’s hard not to think of Erik Jones. Since joining NFL and NASCAR Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs’ ranks in 2013, racing for “Coach” was essentially all he knew. With the Daytona 500 under two weeks away, the 24-year-old will start a new chapter of his career driving for “The King” at Richard Petty Motorsports.
Over a span of two months, it was announced Gibbs would be signing Christopher Bell to the No. 20 car after Leavine Family Racing closed its doors, and Bubba Wallace would be joining forces with Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin under the newly formed 23XI Racing.
While not the most outspoken, Jones displays a loose demeanor and opts to do his talking on the track. In addition to winning a Championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, he combined for 16 victories in the sport’s lower divisions and 62 top-10s at the premier level — but only making it to the winner’s circle twice in this time put a blemish on his resume.
Jones now has the opportunity of a lifetime in driving for seven-time Champion Richard Petty, in his infamous No. 43 nonetheless. It would be fair to assume competing for two icons like Gibbs and “The King” present an insurmountable weight to carry, but for the Michigan native that’s hardly the case.
“For me, the pressure never has come from the team,” Jones told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “I would say it’s a similar feeling; really important figures in sports in general and racing for both of them. It’s always been my goal to be in the Cup Series and win races — that’s never changed for me.
“That pressure stays the same internally from organization to organization.”
Jones expressed the importance of tempering his expectations for 2021, going from a four-car team at JGR, to a smaller program at RPM. Noting that the team has made great strides in recent years, he’d like to finish top-20 in points — a feat Wallace failed to eclipse by just two positions last year.
The 2019 Southern 500 winner would ultimately like to bring the iconic No. 43 to victory lane for the first time since 2014 and lock into the playoffs, but understands the competition will be stacked. He’ll inherit Jerry Baxter as his crew chief and is signed to a multi-year contract with RPM.
We’ll get our first look at Jones driving for Richard Petty Motorsports in the Busch Clash at Daytona International Speedway on February 9 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1, and then in the Daytona 500 on February 14 at 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox.