Erik Jones met with media via teleconference to discuss the recent announcement that he will be joining Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021 as the driver of the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE in the NASCAR Cup Series.
MODERATOR: BIG DAY FOR YOU, ERIK. HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO FINALLY GET THIS PAST, GET THIS DONE AND GET READY TO MOVE ONTO 2021?
Erik Jones: “Yeah, it feels good. These past few months have been kind of hectic trying to work with teams, talk to different people and figure out what opportunities are out there. It’s just nice to finally have it sealed up – have it done, announced and have it out there. You don’t have to answer all the questions anymore from everyone – where you going, what are you doing and when you are going to announce it. So, it’s nice to have it done. It’s a really cool opportunity for myself and I think it’s going to be a pretty great pairing for both of us.”
RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS HAS A TECHNICAL ALLIANCE WITH RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING AND THEY JUST ANNOUNCED THAT THEY ARE GOING TO BE GETTING ENGINES FROM THE HENDRICK GROUP. IS THAT PROGRAM GOING TO EXPAND TO YOU GUYS, AS WELL?
Erik Jones: “I believe so. I can’t answer for sure, but RPM has had an alliance with RCR for a few years and it’s been a full-on technical alliance. There’s still some stuff I have to learn about in how it all works -what we’re getting from RCR and what the whole program is there. I know the essentials of it and how it works, but that was a pretty recent announcement, so I haven’t really dove into that yet in how everything is going to work there. But, I assume it’s the same stuff, so I think that’s going to be a positive. They’ve been trending upwards the last couple of years anyways, with RPM on their own and with RCR’s help, they’ve both been moving in the right direction. So, I think that’s going to continue to drive it the right way anyways.”
OBVIOUSLY, WITH THE CREW CHIEF, IT’S A GUY YOU’RE FAMILIAR WITH – JERRY BAXTER. HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO GET BACK WITH HIM AND HOW MUCH DOES THAT HELP A TRANSITION GOING FROM ONE TEAM TO THE NEXT, WHERE YOU HAVE SOME FAMILIARITY THERE?
Erik Jones: “Yeah, it makes things simpler. I’m not going in blind by any means. I know Jerry (Baxter) pretty well. I haven’t worked with him as a Crew Chief of my own, but when I was at KBM, he was obviously there and working at KBM on the other Trucks. I know Jerry and have met and talked to him quite a bit. I actually already talked to him a little bit the last week or so after we were getting really close on getting this deal signed. He’s really excited – I’m excited to work with Jerry. He’s been around for a long time in the sport – has a lot of knowledge, a lot of know-how and I think what he’s done at RPM has been pretty impressive too. I think it will be an easy transition. We get to skip kind of the awkward introduction stage and we can go right into working on the race cars and kind of what we’re going to look for in each other and the team to go out and be strong right off the bat at Daytona. So, I think that’s going to be a good pairing. Jerry’s a racer at heart, as am I, and I think we can share that right off the bat and kind of get things started off on the right foot.”
I KNOW FOR YOU, YOU WERE IN A GROUP OF FOUR DRIVERS BEFORE. NOW, YOU’RE THE GUY. THEY SAID TODAY THEY’RE GOING TO PUT ONE HUNDRED PERCENT EFFORT AND FOCUS ON YOU. COMING FROM A SMALL TOWN LIKE BRYON AND NOW COMING TO A SMALLER TEAM, HOW EXCITED ARE YOU AND HOW MUCH DOES THAT GIVE YOU MORE COMFORT AS OPPOSED TO BEING A PART OF JUST A MASSIVE TEAM WITH SO MANY DIFFERENT MOVING PARTS?
Erik Jones: “Yeah, I think it’s great. That was one of the things that when RPM reached out I was excited about – the opportunity to be a single-car team and just have everybody working in the same direction. The cool part is I’ll have the chance to get to know everybody at RPM – everybody that’s working on the car in the shop and getting it to the race track. Coming from JGR, I never got the chance to meet everybody. It’s a pretty big company and there’s a lot of people that I never had the chance to really interact with too much. So, that was always a little strange for me with growing up racing and working on my own stuff with my family and getting to know everybody that had a hand in working on the race car. So, kind of getting back to that small town and small team feel I think is going to be really kind of nice. Just having one voice, which is mine and Jerry’s, to kind of lead the team in the direction we think we need to go, I think is going to be a good thing.”
THE NO. 43 IS A PRETTY IMPORTANT NUMBER. I WAS JUST WONDERING WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU TO BE ABLE TO HAVE THAT NOW ON THE SIDE OF YOUR CAR AND JUST THAT HISTORY AND LEGACY THAT COMES WITH THAT?
Erik Jones: “Yeah, it’s definitely iconic. You look at the history of NASCAR and the 43, everybody knows who Richard Petty is if they’re a race fan. And even if they aren’t a race fan, a lot of people know who Richard Petty is. So, that’s really neat. Having the chance to get to spend some time with him the last couple of weeks has been pretty cool. I’d never really gotten the chance to talk too much with him and spend a lot of time with him, other than in passing. So, it’s just really cool to hear the old stories. I’m a really big fan of the history of the sport and to get to hear some of the stories first-hand is a pretty cool experience. It’s really neat to see how invested he is in the team, in the sport and the direction we’re going. I think that’s going to be a really good match. The thing about RPM, like I mentioned a second ago, it’s a group of racers and that really fits me well and my goal, as well. I think we are both really motivated going into it. I have a lot that I want to go out and prove in the Cup Series and want to continue to go out and win more races, and RPM wants to do the same thing. They want to go out and want to win races. I think we can work together pretty well in trying to get to that goal and get that accomplished for next year.”
DO YOU FEEL ANY EXTRA ADDED PRESSURE WITH THAT NUMBER ON THE SIDE OF YOUR CAR?
Erik Jones: “There is definitely a heritage you want to uphold. I think that number is one of the most successful numbers in the history of the sport and one of the biggest numbers. You want to do it proud. You want to run well and you want to be up front. I don’t know that there’s extra pressure from that. I always feel like I think the pressure that’s on me is really internally just from myself. I want to go out and run well. I want to go out and compete and win races. I’ve never tried to let too many things from the outside come in and influence that.”
YOU MENTIONED IT WAS GOING TO BE A GREAT PAIRING FOR THE BOTH OF YOU. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THAT?
Erik Jones: “I think it was just kind of a good timing for us. Obviously, they were moving on and looking for a new driver and I was looking for a new team. Just common goals and common interests, I think, that really matched up between both of our groups going into it. Just the motivation side of it – I think they’re more motivated than ever to continue to grow their program and they’ve been heading in such a good direction the last few years. They are just so close to taking that next step and they wanted to find somebody on the same path. I feel like I’m kind of in that same spot, where we’ve been really close, we’ve won races and I want to win more. So, I think that’s a really good joining of two groups coming together now that are going to be able to go out and really go for a common goal and have one focused effort on it. That’s really the part I’m most excited about.”
YOU MENTIONED THE ICONIC NUMBER, THE NO. 43. I THINK WITH THAT, YOU OBVIOUSLY HAVE A FAN BASE THAT’S GOING TO BRING A NEW FAN BASE. TALK ABOUT WHAT IT’S GOING TO MEAN TO GO DRIVE THAT 43 FOR THE FIRST TIME WITH THE NEW FAN BASE AND COMING TO MICHIGAN INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY FOR THE FIRST TIME WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILIES THERE?
Erik Jones: “Yeah, there’s a huge fan base that follows along with RPM and with the number. So, that’s going to be really cool to welcome all of those people into my group that’s already following me and have them, hopefully, join along and follow. I think we share a lot of the same core values, really, between the fans and myself, what we do and what we look for. It’s cool for me. My grandma is a huge Richard Petty fan. Growing up, she was always interested in watching him. So, that’s pretty cool. She’s excited about it and has been wanting to tell everybody for the last week about what I was doing. It will be cool. I hope when we come back to MIS we get to have fans there so I can have some friends and family come down and to have the chance to meet the King. That’s a pretty cool experience. He’s been really welcoming to me coming in there, so I think it’s going to be a pretty cool experience for everybody.”
WHEN YOU LEFT YOUR TEAM AND WHEN BUBBA (WALLACE) LEFT RPM, WAS THIS THE JOB YOU WERE REALLY TARGETING OR WERE THERE SOME OTHER PARTNERS THAT WERE IN THE BACKGROUND PERHAPS LOOKING FOR YOUR SERVICES?
Erik Jones: “We definitely talked to a variety of different teams. I wouldn’t say that RPM was the only team on the plate. But as things started to shake out and people started finding their rides, we were starting to work towards one direction. I think RPM became a pretty clear choice for us and the place that we wanted to go.”
“The thing that meant a lot to me was RPM reached out to us and I thought that was really encouraging. As a driver and a person, you want to be somewhere where you’re wanted. RPM showed that interest right off the bat when they were looking for a driver and I thought that was really encouraging. Like I said, you want to be somewhere where you’re wanted, you’re appreciated and I think RPM is definitely going to be that place.”
WITH THE PARTNERSHIP HAPPENING WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AND OTHERS, IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE SOME TOP-NOTCH EQUIPMENT. DOES THIS HAVE YOU, RICHARD, KYLE AND THE WHOLE TEAM REALLY EXCITED TO KNOW THAT THE NO. 43 COULD RUN UP FRONT?
Erik Jones: “Yeah, I think they’re going to have great equipment. Like I mentioned, the way that they’ve been trending the last few years, continuing to get their stuff better and better. I think their alliance with RCR has been great to keep developing their equipment. And I hope I can help with that. I hope that I can bring something to the table that’s going to help them continue to get better and better. Obviously, I have four years of experience at JGR – what we did over there and can bring a lot of knowledge from that situation. I think it that’s going to be helpful going into it – that we can continue to improve the stuff. But I definitely think going into it, watching from afar, I think they are continuing to improve and can run up front.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE NOW WITH THIS ANNOUNCEMENT OUT THERE, DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT’S A FRESH START FOR YOU?
Erik Jones: “Yeah, I do. I spent seven years really with Toyota and what they had going on between KBM and Joe Gibbs Racing, and that was great. They did a lot for me and, obviously, took me from the Truck Series all the way to the Cup Series for the last few years and it was a great ride. I got a lot of great things out of that, won races with them and did a lot of good things. I think it was to a point where it was time to do something different for maybe both sides and this is definitely a fresh start for me – a new manufacturer, a new team. Things are going to be pretty new. It’s definitely the most change that I’ve ever had since 2013, my first year in the Truck Series coming from late models. So, it’s a whole new slate for me. The only thing that stays the same is that it’s the Cup Series and we’re racing the same tracks. It’s just going to be a whole new group and everything. It’s going to be good I think. You kind of reset, take what you learned the last few years, apply what you can and learn what you can moving forward to try and take advantage of the current situation. I think that’s a good thing. Like I mentioned, I think both sides are really motivated and I think it’s going to be a good, clean slate and a breath of fresh air to start over.”
WHO’S THE COOLEST PERSON THAT REACHED OUT TO YOU ABOUT THIS?
Erik Jones: “I’ve definitely got some cool texts today. People from actually my past racing that have reached out and said their congratulations, and that’s been really cool. Really from the start, the support that’s been out there from the time we made the announcement that I wasn’t going to be back at JGR all the way up until now, obviously today announcing the new ride with RPM – the support has been pretty amazing and more than I really ever expected. So, that’s been pretty cool.”
YOU TALKED A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE ICONIC OF THE NO. 43 AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A PART OF THE TEAM. BUT FOR YOU TOO, THIS IS A TEAM IN THE HISTORY OF NASCAR, HAS GOTTEN TO VICTORY LANE A LOT, BUT THEY HAVEN’T SINCE 2014. WHAT WILL IT MEAN TO YOU WHEN YOU CAN GET THEM BACK TO VICTORY LANE AND KIND OF CLOSE THAT GAP OF SOMETHING THEY HAVEN’T FELT AS A TEAM SINCE 2014.
Erik Jones: “It would be a huge moment, I think, for both of us. Getting the No. 43 back in victory lane would be awesome. I can only imagine seeing the King walking into victory lane and what that emotion would be like for the both of us, really. There’s a lot of people there that would be really, really ecstatic about it. I’m getting the chance to meet more and more people, and just seeing their excitement to start this deal next year, has been really encouraging. They want to win. Like I mentioned, they’re racers and they want to go out there and win races. That’s the goal – we want to go out there and get back to victory lane for both of us. So, I think that’s going to be cool. I think we have a great opportunity to do it. The emotions would be high, I think, from a lot of people if we can get that car back to victory lane.”
YOU ALSO SAID YOU’VE BEEN SITTING ON THIS FOR A LITTLE BIT TOO. I KNOW COMING INTO THE PLAYOFFS, YOU HAD SAID THAT THIS WHOLE CONTRACT SITUATION AND TRYING TO FIND A RIDE WAS A BIT OF A DISTRACTION. IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS, YOU’VE BEEN ONE OF THE BEST DRIVERS, PLAYOFF DRIVERS OR NOT. DO YOU FEEL LIKE THAT REALLY TOOK THAT PRESSURE OFF AND HOW MUCH HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO JUST FOCUS ON DRIVING?
Erik Jones: “Yeah, it’s been great to run as good as we have the last few weeks. That’s the goal – you want to run up front. We obviously want to finish the year strong with where we are now and hopefully we’ll win another race. That’s what we want to do. Those guys, they haven’t given up at all. And for me, we were still working on this deal the last couple of weeks. I was just doing my deal, I guess – just going out, try to put it aside for the weekend and run strong. It was definitely somewhat of a distraction. You know, you’re trying to work hard on putting this deal together, getting it done and keeping tabs on what all is going on. You spend a lot of time on the phone, catching up with a lot of different people. And then after you sign it, trying to learn everybody’s roles, who everybody is and trying to make that all happen really fast. And in the meantime, keeping pace with what you’re doing right now. So, there’s a lot of different things going on, but having it done now is going to make life a little bit easier. Only three races left in the season – still pretty focused on those and trying to get done what I want to get done there in the No. 20 car. But, definitely excited to have this done, be able to start working on it a little bit and start heading in that direction.”