Joe Gibbs Racing has won 13 of the 25 races contested so far in 2019 on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. But until Sunday night/Monday morning at Darlington Raceway all of the team’s wins had been delivered for the Toyota organization by Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. However, it was the turn of Erik Jones in the Bojangles Southern 500 to contribute to the company’s dominance of victory lane as he held off Busch and Kyle Larson to win one of the sport’s crown jewel events.
That was the second MENCS win for Jones in as many seasons with JGR at the top level of the sport. The Michigan native drove a second car for Furniture Row Racing during his rookie campaign back in 2017.
Jones has been the subject of speculation recently in regard to his racing future. His contract with JGR is up for renewal at the same time other drivers in the Toyota camp, particularly NASCAR Xfinity Series standout Christopher Bell, are on the rise. Those two factors have combined to cause some to wonder if Bell might move into the No. 20 Toyota with Jones finding himself somehow shuffled out of the JGR driver lineup.
Those rumors have persisted as the 23-year-old driver struggled in comparison to his veteran teammates. While Busch, Hamlin and Truex had combined for 12 wins and were each placed within the top-5 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings prior to this weekend, Jones had not won this season until the Darlington race and found himself outside the top-10 in the standings.
When it was announced that driver Matt DiBenedetto would not be retained by Leavine Family Racing(a Toyota team with ties to JGR) following the conclusion of this season, many assumed the new pilot of the No. 95 would be one of Toyota’s young stars. And while most rumors have centered on Bell moving into that ride, the folks at JGR, LFR and Toyota have been somewhat evasive when asked to confirm the speculation. That, in turn, has led some to believe that it could be Jones who will move to LFR so that Bell can step into the No. 20 car.
As has been proven time and again in racing, performance is not always the determining factor when it comes to the question of whether or not a driver will keep or land a particular ride. Sponsor and manufacturer preferences typically tip the balance in such decisions. And that has been evidenced by the fact that DiBenedetto will be pushed aside from LFR despite having scored the best finishes in that team’s history.
It is likely that a decision has already been made regarding the future of Erik Jones with all parties involved simply waiting on some of the loose ends to be tied up. Most likely, he will remain where he is with Christopher Bell moving into the driver’s seat in the No. 95.
But still, until an official announcement has been made, nothing is certain outside the walls of the JGR complex. With that said then, one has to wonder whether or not Erik Jones saved his place at the JGR table with his win in one of NASCAR’s most historic races.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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