Erik Jones will replace Bubba Wallace in the No. 43 at Richard Petty Motorsports next season, the team has announced. Jones currently drives the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing and had been seeking a new ride after the team informed him he'd be replaced by Christopher Bell in 2021.
Jones has signed a multi-year agreement with the team. Jerry Baxter, who currently serves as Wallace's crew chief, will continue to lead the No. 43 team. Baxter and Jones worked together during their time at Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Truck Series.
"It is an incredible honor to have Richard Petty want you to drive for his race team and with the car number he made famous," Jones said in a release. "Richard Petty Motorsports has a rich history in the sport, but they are not resting on that history. They still have something to prove, and I have something to prove. We are both motivated to write a new chapter. I am proud to be a part of Richard Petty Motorsports."
The open seat at RPM was brought about by Wallace electing to depart for a new team co-owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin. Wallace's new team remains unnamed, but trademark applications suggest the team could be called 23XI Racing as an homage to Jordan's No. 23 and Hamlin's No. 11.
Jones was considered one of the top remaining free agents in this year's class alongside Kyle Larson. Industry chatter suggests Larson could be headed to the top available ride at Hendrick Motorsports with Jimmie Johnson retiring. Jones electing to race for RPM only adds fuel to the fire of Larson's HMS prospects.
The 24-year-old Jones is an upgrade for RPM in terms of resume. He has two career Cup Series wins both coming at major races in the Southern 500 and Daytona summer race. Jones was also the first driver to win Rookie of the Year in all three major series. Comparatively, Wallace has yet to win in the Cup Series and only has three top fives over three seasons with RPM.
It is worth noting that Jones was in better-funded equipment at JGR. The move to RPM is considered a downgrade but he noted in an early October interview with CBS Sports that he expects to be competitive each week in 2021.
"I don't think it's a situation where it's gonna be a total struggle."— Matt Mayer (@MatthewMayerCBS) October 6, 2020
Erik Jones hopes to have a new team in the next couple of weeks and feels confident about landing an opportunity where he can win races throughout the season. #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/XjKK5boRmj
The NASCAR Silly Season is officially coming together with Jones headed to RPM and Larson seemingly destined for HMS. The other big seat to be filled was the No. 14, vacated when Clint Bowyer announced he'd be headed to the broadcast booth following the 2020 season. Chase Briscoe, who recently won his ninth Xfinity Series race of the season, was announced as Bowyer's replacement on Tuesday.