Erik Jones Was Only Half of the Spectacular Darlington Weekend for Petty GMS

Two months remain in the current season, but the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series cannot start soon enough for some teams. For the likes of RFK Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing, the desire is to put a dismal year behind them. For Petty GMS, the organization cannot wait to see what Erik Jones and Noah Gragson can deliver as teammates.

Erik Jones completed the Darlington weekend by ending a long winless streak

Erik Jones celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 4, 2022. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Erik Jones celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 4, 2022. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Erik Jones came to Darlington as a second-class citizen in the NASCAR Cup Series. The winless regular season ran his streak of races without driving onto Victory Lane to 109 and denied him one of the 16 berths that will ultimately decide the field for the Championship 4.

He left town with his first victory since late in the 2019 regular season. Ironically, that triumph also came at Darlington. Jones inherited the lead for the final restart after Kyle Busch’s engine blew up, then he pulled away from Denny Hamlin to grind out the final 20 laps and score the win.

It represented the 200th Cup Series win by the No. 43 car. Hall of Famer Richard Petty, who brought Jones to what is now Petty GMS last season, owns 192 of those victories and remains one of the most recognizable figures in American sports with his trademark cowboy hat and sunglasses.

Jones joked in Victory Lane that Petty had promised him a hat if he won.

Erik Jones will have a new teammate at Petty GMS in 2023

Richard Petty Motorsports operated the last several years as a one-car team in the NASCAR Cup Series. That changed in December when Maury Gallagher scrapped plans to launch his own team with Ty Dillon driving. Instead, Gallagher took a controlling stake in RPM, rebranded it, and put Dillon in the No. 42 Chevy while Erik Jones, 26, returned for his second season in the car Petty made famous.

While Jones was competitive in multiple races before his breakthrough Sunday at Darlington, Dillon has been a non-entity and will not return to Petty GMS next season. Instead, Jones’ running mate will be Noah Gragson, a threat to win the Xfinity Series title this fall for JR Motorsports and a part-time Cup Series driver for Kaulig Motorsports.

Gragson is 24 years old and a veteran of 126 Xfinity Series starts. He’s brash and a risk-taker who has already made some enemies, whereas Jones keeps a low profile and has been touted for years as an underappreciated talent.

Together, Jones and Gragson could be both a marketing dream six days a week and a handful for opposing drivers on Sundays. Gallagher’s arrival has pumped money and enthusiasm into the organization. And while Gragson will need to get more races under his belt to become a factor, it’s easy to envision Petty GMS soon challenging for the title of best two-car team in the Cup Series.

Noah Gragson began the great weekend at Darlington

He doesn’t officially join his new team until after the current season is complete, but Noah Gragson undoubtedly had the Petty GMS crew rooting for him Saturday at Darlington, and he delivered in a big way.

Gragson led 79 of the first 82 laps in the Xfinity Series race and was competitive throughout. The last two laps became a shootout amongst Sheldon Creed, defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, and Gragson. Creed and Larson swapped paint for the last three-quarters of a mile, and Gragson swooped in for the victory in what might have been the best race in any of NASCAR’s three series so far this season.

While Gragson was driving under the JR Motorsports banner, he gave his future team (and prospective sponsors) a taste of what to look for next year.

All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.

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