Christopher Bell’s win last night really got me thinking about how horrible it must’ve felt for Erik Jones to watch the car he was piloting for three years and struggled to keep in playoff contention, get a win in only two races with its new driver. I think a lot of people began to wonder if the issues surrounding young Toyota development drivers was something plaguing them as a whole after we watched not only Erik Jones, but Daniel Suarez struggle to find speed in their years at JGR.
I think that Christopher Bell’s win and of course Martin Truex Jr.’s many wins since Suarez’s exit prove that yes these two were the problem. That doesn’t have to necessarily mean it was all their fault alone though. There is a multitude of reasons why Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez didn’t develop, but I promise you, it isn’t because they’re not talented.
The numbers they were putting up in Xfinity we’re the quality of numbers we see out of future Cup champions and trust me when I say that both these guys have that level of talent, even still.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a future star burn out in their jump to the Cup series, it won’t be the last. But, these two need to take a page out of another former JGR development superstar that almost turned into a NASCAR bust, Joey Logano. Logano also took over the #20 and struggled to be a consistent threat in it. In almost the exact same turn of events, JGR saw an opportunity to put a contending driver like Matt Kenseth in the car and released Joey Logano after once touting him “the next big thing since sliced bread.”
Now look at him, he’s loathed by fans everywhere, but that’s because he wins and he’s now a champion after leaving JGR. Logano proves that sometimes a driver and a team just don’t mesh well. I guess it begs the question of why JGR has had so many busts under their development?
I was hoping that is the same situation that would happen for Suarez, but unfortunately, his second chance at Stewart-Haas Racing did not work out as profitably as Logano’s move to Penske.
This year, Suarez has found a new home at Trackhouse and Erik Jones with RPM. Both these guys are being given lesser equipment to show what they can do, and so far, I’m impressed. We’re only two races in, but already Daniel Suarez has shown some promise with this brand new team, the end results won’t show it but you can see it if your paying attention. Running near the front in the 500 before being wrecked and leading laps and finishing in the top 20 on the road course for a team that some wondered if it’d be a bottom dweller this season is impressive.
Erik Jones wheeled his new team to 14th place finish on Sunday, a feat that is always good for the RPM crew. Erik Jones is the most talented driver RPM has had since Kasey Kahne and driving for the team during the most optimistic time in their recent existence. I’m happy to see that the positive trajectory that Bubba Wallace left the team in, Jones seems to be continuing it.
The moral of the story, these drivers are being given up on too quickly. These guys have the talent to be NASCAR champions and they were given up on at the ages of 23 and 26. Most drivers don’t even hit their prime until their mid-thirties.
Toyota has faced harsh criticism for its development program, and I believe they have finally answered the call. The founding of 23XI Racing and the promise of future expansion guarantees that young talent like Harrison Burton, Ty Gibbs, Brandon Jones, and other TRD drivers will have a place to grow. It also means Christopher Bell doesn’t have to worry about someone breathing down his neck as Erik Jones had to all year last year.
There have also been rumors circulating that Toyota is looking to poach a lower-level Chevrolet team and convert it to a new Toyota team. Early reports suggest JTG Daugherty and Richard Petty Motorsports are in early contention for that. I think it would be a nice way for Toyota to repay Jones for their poor treatment of his development by gifting a resurgence of income and competition to his new team and welcoming him back to the family that groomed him since he was 16.
Both Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones have gone through a major hurdle in their career, but they both currently are looking at a light at the end of the tunnel and their championship aspirations are not over yet.