Erik Jones is now officially on the NASCAR free agent market.
Jones won’t return to Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 car in 2021. Jones, who has been in the Cup Series full-time since 2017, signed a one-year contract extension in 2019 to remain with the team for the 2020 season.
Jones, 24, is still one of the best young talents in the Cup Series even if his 2020 season hasn’t been great. Jones is 18th in the points standings and outside the 16-driver playoff field despite five top-five finishes in 20 races. Just six drivers have more than five top-fives in 2020.
Jones isn’t in the top 10 because he’s had so many poor finishes in 2020. He’s finished outside the top 20 in nine races.
He got his first career victory in 2018 at Daytona in the July race and then won at Darlington in the Southern 500 in 2019.
Enter Christopher Bell?
Jones’ departure from JGR likely means that Christopher Bell takes over the No. 20 car in 2021. Bell, who has a contract with Toyota, is in his first year in the Cup Series and driving for Leavine Family Racing in 2020. But Leavine Family Racing is shutting down at the end of the season, and Bell needs to find a new team.
With Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. entrenched at JGR, Jones’ No. 20 car seemed like the only option for Bell to move to JGR in 2021. And we’ll find out soon enough if that comes to fruition.
Bell, 25, has 16 wins in 74 career Xfinity Series starts.
Jones should not be short of suitors on the free agent market. Hendrick Motorsports is still looking for a driver to replace Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 car. Stewart-Haas Racing could have two rides available if Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer don’t re-sign with the team. And Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 car is ostensibly available with the firing of Kyle Larson in April.
If Jones signs with a top-tier team like Hendrick or SHR, he could immediately become a perennial contender similar to what happened when Joey Logano left JGR. Logano left JGR after a 2012 season where he finished 17th in the standings and went to Team Penske. Since signing with Penske, Logano won the 2018 title, has 23 wins and has finished lower than eighth in the standings just once.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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