Richard Petty Motorsports has been through a roller coaster of competitive balance in the last few seasons. They’ve never been good, but there have been teases of improvements that has come to an impasse with the departure of Bubba Wallace who brought a significant portion of the funding to the team.
It’s not all doom and gloom however, I think RPM came out of the 2020 offseason with the best possible driver available to them in Toyota development reject Erik Jones. With Jones, they find a driver with much more potential then Wallace. This is not a shot at Wallace, but the fact of the matter is Jones was once expected to be a young future championship contending driver coming up along with Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney.
Coming off a disappointing stint at Joe Gibbs Racing, Jones posted mediocre numbers on what should be a contending team which is why he’s now sitting in the #43-car. In his four years at JGR he was gradually appearing to get better each season until he regressed in 2020. I think that is how a lot of people justify cutting Jones; I’m going to stay consistent and say that 2020 drivers should get a mulligan. This was an odd year and some driver struggled to adapt more so than others.
Even with his struggles he still performed on the same level as young drivers like Alex Bowman and William Byron, and he’s only 25-years old. Anyone who is ready to pull the plug on a kid who has won a truck series championship and won 18 races in NASCAR by age 25 is incapable of seeing potential.
Going over to RPM offers Erik Jones the opportunity to go into a smaller team where overachieving is all but assured. It takes a lot of pressure off him and will allow him to focus on his driving at a team that he’s honestly overqualified to drive for.
Expectations are low, honestly if he stays on par with what Bubba Wallace was running then they can look back and say it was a successful year. I expect him to do better than Wallace, maybe not contend for a playoff spot, but still take a top 30 team and make it a top 20.
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 8
Average Finish: 19th
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 5
Average Finish: 23rd
Heading into 2021 my expectations for Jones are to pick up where Wallace left off from a competition level. RPM will continue to be a mid to back of the pack team in 2021, but with Erik Jones they have more opportunities at top ten finishes.
I’m excited for RPM because they have a driver with more upside then they’ve ever had in one of their cars. Maybe, this is just a stop gap for Jones who will inevitably find a new ride. But, for Richard Petty Motorsports fans this could be the move that turns the team around finally.