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Loganity: "The King" and " That Jones Boy" A Bright Future Or A Last Stand?

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As we all know this silly season has been unprecedented in a flurry of twists and turns, not unlike a road course. Perhaps the most surprising move of the Silly season has been Erik Jones heading to the iconic 43 to drive for Richard Petty Motorsports. It certainly wasn’t a major shock when it was announced Jones wouldn’t be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021. When you’re teammates of 2 cup champions still in their primes and a 3 time Daytona 500 winner who has as many Cup wins as Bill Eliott it’s not hard to figure out who the replaceable driver is. Of course, we have to factor in the success of the man who is replacing Jones, Christopher Bell. Bell won the Truck Series Championship in 2017. He would go on to win 16 Xfinity series races with 46 top tens. He drove in the Cup Series this season for Levine Family Racing where he finished 20th in points, highlighted by 2 top 5’s and 7 top 10’s.

None of this is meant as a knock on Jones. He’s had his share of success. He too is a Truck Series champion. He has 9 Xfinity Series wins and most importantly 2 Cup series victories. Some may scoff at being overly impressed with the two victories, but when you look around at this season’s crop of free-agent drivers it’s easy to see how tough it is to win in the sport’s top series. Anyone that watches our weekly show knows I love Richard Petty Motorsports. You also know that we universally agreed that Jones was likely too big of a get for the team. As it turned out we were wrong. “Bubba” Wallace leaving the team was nothing short of a gut punch in terms of all the funding and momentum he was taking with him, but serious credit has to be given to Petty and company for signing a driver that regains some of that lost momentum.

Naysayers will undeniably point out that this is a giant step back for Jones and on paper, it’s tough to disagree. There’s no denying the team’s overall lack of success for the better part of 4 decades. Whether we’re discussing the final decade of Richard Petty’s career with Petty Enterprises or its current form as Richard Petty Motorsports. Overall since roughly 1980, the team has been on a slow and steady decline. Richard Petty would win his final race in 1984 and to top it off the last two wins of his career were for Curb Racing after he left Petty Enterprises in 1984. He would return to the team in 1986. From then on he and the team would have their moments occasionally but the magic was gone. Since Petty retired in 1992 the team has just won 6 times. It hasn’t been all bad for the team since The King’s prime though, there have been bright spots. Whether it’s John Andretti getting what would be Petty Enterprise’s final win in 1999. Bobby Labonte stabilized the team in his first two seasons. Later on, after becoming Richard Petty Motorsports Kasey Kahne would give the new incarnation of the team two wins in its inaugural season but would depart from the team before the completion of the 2010 season. A.J. Allmendinger proved to be a step in the right direction. As did Aric Almirola who provided the team with their most recent win in 2014 in the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. Unfortunately, things would go south in the 2017 silly season. Almirola would leave for Stewart-Hass Racing and Smithfield would go with him after a messy exit. Then came Bubba Wallace. After two seasons of stagnant results and sponsorship trouble, the 2020 season was the latest bright spot.

RPM and Wallace showed considerable improvement spending much of the summer on the playoff bubble. Wallace would finish 22nd in the season’s standings after results faded some as the unique season went on. While that may seem like nothing to get too excited about it’s a sizable improvement from finishing 28th and 30th in the two previous seasons for Wallace. Much of the credit must be given to Bubba for running so strongly and with the help of his advocacy for racial injustice, he was able to help acquire a lot of funding for the team. No matter what your opinion is on Wallace and his views he certainly helped raise the notoriety of the team. However, credit must also go to the team at the shop and crew chief Jerry Baxter, who will be back atop the box next season.