When the Petty GMS organization was constructed in December, it was difficult to predict what the two-car team would ultimately become. While they have not found victory lane yet this season, they have been knocking on the door. Now in his second full-time season with the organization, Erik Jones has been producing solid results for the rebranded team.
After not having a single top-five finish last season, Jones recorded a 3rd place finish at Fontana and finished 4th last month at Atlanta. He has led lapses in eight races this season and his eight top-ten finishes are already more than what he had all of last year.
Jones nearly took the team to victory lane for the first time back in April at Talladega. The 26-year old driver made a split-second decision to block Kyle Larson on the final lap of the race, only to lose the lead to another car coming to the finish line. It was a gut punch for Jones and the team, but also an opportunity to learn.
“You try to look at the positives from that race,” Jones said. “We had a fast car, led laps and were in the lead coming to where we needed to be. It’s frustrating. You work that hard for 500 miles and it comes down to the last few thousand feet. It’s tough. At the end of the day, it just makes you want to work harder.” That is exactly what the organization has been doing since that day.
The team responded the following week with another top-ten finish. Their resolve and their patience has been tested, but they continue to thrive in the toughest circumstances. Jones knows they can win – and not just at a superspeedway. During his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Jones won at Daytona and Darlington. The Petty GMS organization has performed well at tracks of all shapes and sizes this year.
Jones and his crew have been in a good place over the last five races. They have led laps in three of those with top-tens at Pocono and Michigan, in addition to the 4th place result at Atlanta. Most of the focus has been on the No. 43 car, and for good reason.
Last month the organization announced that Ty Dillon would not be returning to the No. 42 Chevrolet next season. The grandson of Richard Childress has just one top-ten finish all season, which was a 10th place result in the Bristol dirt race. On Wednesday, they named his replacement in Noah Gragson.
While the news wasn’t a surprise to many in the industry, it fits in line with where this organization is heading. Back in 2019, GMS Racing started a driver development program with Chevrolet and JR Motorsports. Gragson is in his fourth full-time season in the Xfinity Series, all with JR Motorsports.
Although he has not won a championship in the series, Gragson has been a title contender every year, collecting eight race wins and 52 top-five finishes. The Las Vegas native has one more opportunity to get that done in the coming weeks, but Wednesday’s announcement was all about his future as a Cup driver.
“To be able to finally announce my plans for next season and officially say I will be competing full time in the Cup Series is a dream come true,” said Gragson. “This is what we all dream of when we start racing at a young age, to be able to compete at the top level with the best in the world. The sky is the limit here. Petty GMS wants to grow and make this a home for me.”
Team president Mike Beam has high expectations, saying he hopes Noah can contend for wins next season and for the championship in three years. He added that this is part of an accelerated timeline to reach the organization’s performance goals.
“We don’t have time. We’ve got to go, and that’s just the honest to God’s truth. We’re not gonna mess around. We’re committed to this. What it costs to do it, it’s like there’s really no budget. We’re just buying what we need. Noah knows it. Erik knows it. Our plan is just to run hard. If you wreck it, we’ll bring it home and fix it. That’s just the way it is.”
Noah has made eight starts in Cup this season for Kaulig Racing, and ran the Daytona 500 with Beard Motorsports. He has only finished four of those nine races, as he tries to learn the NextGen car, and the different style of racing in NASCAR’s top level. Gaining experience is vital for his rookie season, but he will also need to work on his maturity.
That is one of the key areas where he needs to improve in order to co-exist with the veteran drivers of this sport. He has had several incidents with other drivers in his short career, including the situation at Road America with Sage Karam. Those aggressive driving tactics earned Noah a $35,000 fine, and he was penalized 30 championship points. Richard Petty wants Noah to still be himself, but with a more measured approach in his behavior.
“We might have to calm him down a little bit, but the way that Cup racing is now, he’s got to be aggressive. I think from that standpoint, I just hope that we can calm him down where he’s not too aggressive, but he’s going to be in a learning process because Xfinity is a little bit different crowd of people. They race different. When it comes to Cup, he’s going to have to learn to respect his other drivers and he’s going to have to respect them. So it’s going to be interesting.”
Two weeks ago at Indianapolis, Jones and the organization announced that they had a new multi-year agreement in place for the Michigan native to continue with the team. “I really like the group we have. Each week I feel like we get better and better and put ourselves in contention to win. Knowing where I’ll be driving allows us to really focus on building the team and making our cars better. I’m looking forward to finishing this season strong, hopefully with a win, and continuing to build on what we started this year.”
Jones qualified 9th for today’s race at Richmond, and sits 14th in the regular season standings. While they are not currently in the playoffs, that can change in the blink of an eye with a win in one of these final three races. Next weekend is a visit to Watkins Glen, followed by a trip to Daytona, where Jones has won before.
With 15 different race winners through 23 races this season, Jones believes they can make it happen. “We want to win races. That’s my goal, Maury’s goal, and Richard’s goal. That is everybody’s goal here. We’re building to get to that point. It’s a learning process, but overall, I’ve been happy with it. “
The Petty GMS organization is now aligned with two young drivers (26 and 24) that they can groom over the next few years. It has been proven, especially this season, that two-car teams can be quite successful. The prime example would be TrackHouse Racing, who has stormed onto the scene with Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain. That model of success is exactly what Petty GMS is trying to mold with Jones and Gragson.
When Petty came to the realization that something was going to need to change, he found the perfect partner in Maury Gallagher. The two have formed a unique partnership that combines championship pedigree (GMS in Trucks, Petty in Cup) and exceptional brand recognition and marketing opportunities.
“We wanted to work with somebody who knew about racing, wanted to race, wanted to be a winner, wanted to spend the money in the right place,” Petty said. “He wins on one scale, we win on another. We put it all together, and all of us win together. It’s one of those deals I think as times change, I have to change. NASCAR changes. It was a good time to bring in a new partner.”
Now that the organization has a full-scale simulator to use, Petty is confident that success is coming. “We’re a lot better off this year than we were last year. You’ve got to figure when one team gets involved with another team, it takes a little while to get everybody on the same page. So it’s taken us probably about half a year to sort of get everybody to understand both sides, but this team is really coming together. I think we’re pretty damn close to winning some races.”
“It’s definitely a great shot in the arm for all these employees that there is hope,” Beam said. “We all need hope. Hope that you’re doing the right thing, but also that you’re investing in people and investing in the sport. You’ve got to have hope that you’re going to get there.” The Petty GMS organization will get there, it’s just a matter of when.