Two of the highest profile NASCAR Cup Series seats are now spoken for in 2021.
Chase Briscoe will drive the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 and Erik Jones will drive the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 next season. They replace the outgoing Clint Bowyer, retirement, and Bubba Wallace, who has signed with a new team owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin.
Briscoe set a goal of eight wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season, believing nothing less would make him eligible for a Cup Series seat in 2021. He has won nine times with three races remaining and is the championship favorite approaching the final at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7.
Jones has spent his entire NASCAR career under the Toyota Racing Development banner, having been signed by Joe Gibbs Racing after defeating Kyle Busch in the 2012 Snowball Derby Super Late Model race.
He won the Truck Series championship in 2015 and earned six Xfinity Series victories in his two full-time seasons before joining Cup in 2017. His first season was with the second Furniture Row Racing team, a Toyota satellite organization, before joining Gibbs proper the following season.
Jones has two wins, at Daytona in 2018 and Darlington in 2019, but was notified earlier in the summer that he would not be retained as Christopher Bell needed to be graduated to the Gibbs team due to the impending closure of Toyota satellite Leavine Family Racing at the end of this season.
Jones will be looking to secure Petty its first Cup win since 2014 at Daytona with Aric Almirola. Wallace has generated momentum and sponsorship revenue for the iconic No. 43 team and Jones will be looked-upon to at least maintain the team’s current top-20 performance.
"It is an incredible honor to have Richard Petty want you to drive for his race team and with the car number he made famous," Jones said. "Richard Petty Motorsports has a rich history in the sport, but they are not resting on that history. They still have something to prove, and I have something to prove. We are both motivated to write a new chapter. I am proud to be a part of Richard Petty Motorsports."
Briscoe walked a similar path as Stewart-Haas Racing team owner Tony Stewart, using a dirt Sprint Car background to advance through the pavement ladder, and through the NASCAR Xfinity Series before signing a Cup contract.
"For me to get to drive for Tony Stewart is unbelievable," the 25-year-old Briscoe said Saturday after winning his ninth Xfinity race of the season.
"When I go back to Indiana in my hometown, my bedroom still has Tony Stewart stuff everywhere. I was a die-hard Tony Stewart fan. I used to literally dress up in a Home Depot uniform and helmet and play my Sprint Car video game every single day. And now I get to drive for the guy."
Stewart sees a lot of himself in Briscoe as well.
"When he makes a mistake, he will spend more time reflecting on that mistake, unfortunately, than he does the rest of the good things that he does all day. But that’s kind of the way I was in my career too," Stewart said. "I felt minimizing mistakes was the key to winning races and championships, and that’s also the same mindset that Chase has as well.
"He’s very, very diligent about making sure he learns from everything that happens on the racetrack, and he’s got a pretty good memory bank to hold all of that knowledge in. So, he’s great about realizing when he makes a mistake and then analyzing what happened, why did he make the mistake and what can he do to correct it for the next time. That’s something that I had to try to do through my career as well."
The last major seat to be filled in the NASCAR Cup Series is what is now the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88. Alex Bowman will be moved to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 next season, taking over for Jimmie Johnson, who in turn will go IndyCar racing with Chip Ganassi Racing.
The No. 88 could be renumbered for its new driver, with the industry expecting the recently reinstated Kyle Larson to ultimately land with Hendrick.