INTERVIEW: Erik Jones is on a mission

INTERVIEW: Erik Jones is on a mission

On July 30, a Petty GMS tweet confirmed that Erik Jones will remain in the No.43 Chevy for the foreseeable future thanks to a new multi-year deal. A little over a month later, Jones drove to victory in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. As if the racing gods themselves had a hand in it, the last time the No. 43 was in victory lane at Darlington Raceway was on the same date – September 4 – back in 1967 when Richard Petty won in his 1966 No. 43 Plymouth Belvedere.

It’s been that kind of season for Jones. Currently 18th in Cup Series points with only the Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami, Martinsville and Phoenix races left to be run, it’s been a year of growth for the 2019 Southern 500 winner. With Xfinity Series standout Noah Gragson signed to Petty GMS Racing for the 2023 NASCAR Cup season, Jones will now move into more of veteran role for the outfit come Daytona in 2023.

Q: 2022 has been a solid year for you. You’ve won a race, drove to three top five finishes, as well as 12 top 10 finishes. You’ve also led 147 laps. All things considered, how do you feel abut your season?

ERIK JONES: I’ve been happy with it. It’s kind of funny that your expectations change as time goes by, I guess. Looking at the year now, it’s easy to get frustrated because we won that race at Darlington the first week the Playoffs started and obviously we just missed the Playoffs. It was like, “Man, we needed that win earlier in the year.”

At the same time, if I was to look at this year before the season even started and said, “Hey, this is how you’re season is going to go…” I think I would have been pretty pleased with it. I’m happy to keep building the program with Petty GMS. I think we’ve taken some pretty huge steps as far as just getting our team better and stronger. I’ve just been real happy with that growth.

Jones’s Darlington win came too late from a playoffs standpoint, but it did serve to reinforce the progress being made by Petty GMS. Motorsport Images

Q: Over the summer you signed a contract extension with Petty GMS and you’ve consistently talked about how you’re in this deal for the long haul and that both you and the team are all-in. You’ve got skin in the game with this team, don’t you?

EJ: Yeah, it’s just been fun to build the program. Going over there last season it was obviously Richard Petty Motorsports then and then Maury Gallagher came in during the off-season and bought a majority ownership stake in the team. I think that has brought another level to our performance and helped our game even more, which has been good. I knew last year going into the deal that it was going to be a building kind of situation. Going into it there was not the sense that we were going to go out and really set the world on fire right off the bat, but getting some good people and getting to some good places in the off-season and now leading into this season has really made the difference for us.

Q: I also wanted to ask you about Noah Gragson joining Petty GMS for the 2023 NASCAR Cup season…

EJ: He and my crew chief Dave Elenz had a relationship before as they had worked in the Xfinity Series together. We were looking to make a change in the No. 42 for next year and we were going through a list of people and obviously Dave was really high on Noah and his talent and what he could bring. I think Noah is the most deserving guy of an opportunity at the Cup level, at least a guy running in the Xfinity Series, so I was excited about that and excited to get him signed up and coming over here next year. I think he’s just going to help take us to the next level. We kind of know as a group where we need to go and what we need to do to be that next level team. I think Noah is going to be a big part of that.

Q: You been through some ups-and-downs throughout your career, going from a powerful four-car team to a single car team to now a two-car team. And throughout it all you never lost confidence in yourself and your abilities. This isn’t an easy sport, is it?

EJ: No, not really. Obviously getting let go from JGR at the end of 2020 was tough for me to try and find a new home and to figure out were that was going to be and what I was going to do. Obviously, I wanted to continue racing at the Cup level and I wanted to win races, and I didn’t know how that opportunity was going to work out, so it is just pretty cool to see it all come full circle in the last year in the last year.

Getting back to victory lane was the ultimate goal over the journey of the last season and a half. It is really rewarding. And Darlington was probably the most rewarding win over the last year and a half of my career. It has just been fun to be a part of. This group and these guys are excellent and I really feel like this is the best group of guys that I’ve worked with in my Cup career. I’m pretty proud of that and just pretty proud to be a part of getting the 43 car back to victory lane and the work that took over the past year and a half. That’s all been pretty cool to be a part of.