Erik Jones has a ride for 2021 and Richard Petty Motorsports has a successor for Bubba Wallace.
RPM announced Wednesday that Jones would take over the No. 43 car next season. Jones has been looking for a ride ever since Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota moved Christopher Bell into the No. 20 car for 2021. Bell needed a ride because Leavine Family Racing is shutting down at the end of the season.
“It is an incredible honor to have Richard Petty want you to drive for his race team and with the car number he made famous,” Jones said in a statement. “Richard Petty Motorsports has a rich history in the sport, but they are not resting on that history. They still have something to prove, and I have something to prove. We are both motivated to write a new chapter.”
Jones, 24, has won two Cup Series races in his career. He won the 2018 July race at Daytona and won the Southern 500 at Darlington in 2019. He missed the playoffs in 2020, though his performance has improved dramatically in recent weeks. Jones had four consecutive finishes in the top eight before he finished 20th at Kansas on Sunday.
If getting a ride in the Cup Series was simply based on merit and talent, then Jones would have no problem at all getting in a competitive car. But sponsorship is key and Jones is a driver who doesn’t have a company closely associated with him to finance his career.
That may make things interesting at RPM. The team had struggled to find sponsorship for Wallace until the 2020 season and much of the sponsorship that it got with Wallace behind the wheel this season will likely leave with him. Wallace is joining a new team formed by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin in 2021.
It’s unlikely that Jones will be contending for wins at RPM on a regular basis. RPM is solidly a lower mid-pack team in the Cup Series and is probably stuck in that tier without a massive sponsorship infusion of cash. But a ride in the Cup Series is better than no ride at all, and with few rides available at NASCAR’s top level in 2021, Jones’ options were limited.
Jones’ move to RPM also further intensifies the possibility that Kyle Larson will drive for Hendrick Motorsports in 2021. There are few remaining free-agent options outside of Larson for that open seat at HMS and Larson is easily the best driver available.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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