Despite hot streak, Erik Jones remains in the Gibbs hot seat

Erik Jones remains a free agent-to-be by the end of the 2019 NASCAR season.

Once considered one of the untouchable pillars of the future for Joe Gibbs Racing, Erik Jones is under scrutiny amidst the best streak of his career.

It’s no secret that uber-prospect Christopher Bell soon warrants a place at the highest level of the sport, but there seems to be no clear place to put him at JGR next season. Kyle Busch is the unquestioned face of the organization and a perennial championship contender. Denny Hamlin is the reigning Daytona 500 winner and a three-time winner in 2019 following his victory on Sunday at Pocono. Martin Truex Jr. is in the first year of a multi-year agreement.

That leaves Jones, the 23-year-old third-year Cup Series driver that just recently supplanted 2003 champion Matt Kenseth out of the No. 20 two years ago as Gibbs and his sponsors wanted to skew younger with the organization.

But Jones is in the last year of his current contract and every week without an extension makes the speculation grow that he could be replaced by Bell next year — regardless of a streak that has seen Jones finish no worse than third over the past three races with top-10s over his last 11 races.

And Gibbs’ answer about Jones future doesn’t inspire much confidence either.

“I want to say to everybody, it’s so hard putting everything together,” he said during the winning team’s press conference on Sunday at Pocono. “I know people get frustrated because you haven’t made a decision yet on some things.

“But I just say this: there are sponsors involved, so many relationships involved, you’re trying to get through that and work it all out.

“I think honestly, that’s part of Erik’s world. It doesn’t go easy sometimes. He knows. I keep him updated, we do. He knows we’re working as hard as we can. Hopefully, it will be one of those things we get put in place here pretty quick.”

Jones has one career Cup victory, last July at Daytona, with 21 top-5s in 96 starts across Furniture Row Racing and JGR. He’s currently 13th in the championship standings.

Jones feels like this recent run is a precursor for more to come in the second half and during his push towards the playoffs.

Honestly, we started the race so far off today, I wasn’t sure how we were going to run,” Jones said. We were able to turn it around halfway, get back in contention. There at the end I wasn’t sure how it was all going to play out. It was nice to get some good restarts. Martin (Truex Jr.) gave me a great push at the end.

We were there for second, then the top got rolling. I couldn’t really do anything. Good to get another top-three run. We just got to break through. Once we get that first one, I think we can click a few off here.”

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