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Erik Jones ‘blindsided’ by split with Joe Gibbs Racing

Erik Jones won't return to Joe Gibbs Racing after this season and says that he was "blindsided" by the decision and didn't expect things to shake out this way after what he characterized as positive talks with the team.

Erik Jones said he was “blindsided a little bit” when he was informed Thursday morning by Joe Gibbs Racing that he wouldn’t be returning to the team in 2021.

The driver of the No. 20 Toyota “thought we were moving in a good direction” with negotiations before the news was delivered.

“At the end of the day I’ve had a great, really, eight years almost with Joe Gibbs Racing between Xfinity and Cup,” Jones told NBCSN’s Marty Snider prior to Sunday’s Cup race at Michigan. “I’m thankful for that time. It’s good to see the support that’s been out there the last few days on social media and everybody that’s come out to support, it’s been awesome. I’ve got a great few opportunities out there, which has been good to see. Over the next few weeks hopefully we can have some good talks. Excited about that and excited about the next fifteen races, too.”

Jones, who starts 10th today, said he’s in “a lot different spot” than what he’s been used to as a Toyota development driver since he competed for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series starting in 2013.

“Really after we won that first Truck race in Phoenix (in 2013) I was kind of on a plan and it really worked well all the way up to the 20 car,” Jones said. “It’s a lot different situation. I’ve got great people behind me working with me ... It’s been a hectic few days trying to start working on things for next year. But it’s also an opportunity to take a foundation we’ve built that last few years and start to build from that. It’s unfortunate in one way, but it’s exciting in another way too.”

Jones said the “best thing” he can do to help his job search is perform well over the last 15 races of the year.

“I think we’re fully capable in that and we had rough week in New Hampshire (finished 24th) that put us behind a little bit, but yesterday was great for us points wise,” said Jones, who finished 11th and earned 12 stage points. He enters today’s race 16 points behind the final playoff spot.

“I talked with (crew chief) Chris (Gayle) and he’s on the same page,” Jones said. “He wants to go out strong and everybody on this 20 team. I don’t think anybody’s let up at all here in these last few days, yesterday or going forward. I’m all in with them, and I think they’re all in with me for these 15 (races) we’ve got and hopefully getting in the playoffs and have a strong showing there and see where we can go from there.”