INDIANAPOLIS â Erik Jones arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway buoyed by his first NASCAR victory in more than a year, relieved to be able to talk about his contract extension and eager for the playoffs to begin.
But after his deal for 2020 with Joe Gibbs Racing was announced, Jones also faced questions about his future beyond then.Â The answers may come on the racetrack.
âNo. 1, I am just happy to get the release out and get it set in stone that we are going to be back in the same spot,â Jones said Saturday morning before practice at for Sundayâs Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard. âIt feels good. Iâve had a good relationship with JGR since 2015. Iâve enjoyed racing for them and I hope Iâm there for a long time.
âI hope we can continue to prove that we deserve this ride. I think Chris (Gayle, crew chief) and I having been doing our job here lately in trying to execute. We have good momentum going now, just need to keep that rolling.â
All of the uncertainty over Jonesâ future relates to a numbers game in the Toyota camp.
Gibbs has three other, more experienced drivers, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., both of whom are Cup champions, and Denny Hamlin a 35-race winner and frequent title contender who has a long relationship with sponsor FedEx.Â Christopher Bell, who has won 14 of 65 Xfinity Series starts (through Aug. 31) for Gibbs, appears targeted for the No. 95 car (currently driven by Matt DiBenedetto) in Leavine Family Racing â the single-car Gibbs/Toyota satellite team.
Jones has been in Toyotaâs NASCAR pipeline since 2013, when he joined Buschâs Truck Series team. Bell followed a similar path two years later.
âWe will keep running with it and see where it goes,â Jones said of the one-year extension that was completed about 10 days earlier than it was announced. âI think if we keep doing what weâve been doing here the last couple months, I donât think we will have any issues.â
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Jones, in his third season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, has already matched his career high for top-five finishes and 11 races remain (ahead of Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway). In the past seven races, he has finished fourth or better five times, including his victory last weekend in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
âRight before the playoffs is a good time to get your momentum rolling,â said Jones, the Brickyard runner-up in 2018. âI feel like this time of year has always been pretty good for us in the past couple years between my rookie season and up till now.
âWe are on a roll and want to keep rolling here in Indy and on to Las Vegas. âŚ We want to go deep in the playoffs. We want to be able to make a run at it and make it to the round of eight, is definitely my goal. That gives you a shot to go to Homestead. If we make it there, Iâd say itâs been a real successful year.â