As Silly Season swings, Petty GMS drivers Dillon, Jones headed in opposite directions

·8 min read

LOUDON, N.H. — What a week.

Silly Season saw a seismic shock on Tuesday, with Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick dropping in on a 23XI Racing video conference call to announce he’d be joining the Toyota-backed organization as a full-time driver starting in 2024.

Given Reddick is locked up with RCR for 2023, just picked up his first Cup Series win earlier this month and offers the organization its best shot at picking up its first championship since Dale Earnhardt’s seventh title in 1994, the news came as a surprise to probably everyone outside of the small group of people who negotiated the 26-year-old’s future deal.

As if that wasn’t enough, as teams were just getting set up for the race weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday afternoon, Ty Dillon dropped a bomb on Twitter with a statement saying — after just 19 races together — he and Petty GMS “mutually agreed to go our separate ways” at the conclusion of 2022.

The two-car Petty GMS organization appeared to be one on the rise, building a solid foundation with a pair of talented former prospects looking to re-establish themselves as Cup Series presences. Dillon’s abrupt departure announcement was almost as surprising as Reddick’s.

RELATED: T.Dillon, Petty GMS to split | Silly Season roundup

“So many things have happened this week,” Dillon said. “Obviously, I’m so focused on doing the best I can in the 42 this year, and get all I can prove to people that I can win races in the Cup Series and that I’m one of the best 36 drivers in the series, which I know I am. But I’m a free agent, which is always exciting, you know, and it’s just a bridge to the next opportunity that I’m looking forward to taking advantage of, and I’m gonna have fun with it. You know, this week’s been tough dealing with all the news about leaving, but from here forward, I get to focus on what’s next. And also leaving it all out on the line knowing I’m not coming back, it’s kind of freeing in a sense to just go and give it all I have every weekend. And you know, I think it’s only going to be the best for me, and I wish the best for them in the future.”

Dillon elected not to divulge any of the details of the split, saying “that’s probably a question for (Petty GMS),” and Jones mentioned not being privy to the full extent of it as well — “I don’t know all the insides of it. Obviously, there’s probably some business stuff there” —  but wait a minute. Perhaps there is no acrimony. Perhaps a different scenario presented itself, abruptly and unexpectedly, for Dillon’s future.

Reddick’s move means the No. 8 car will be available for 2024 if RCR keeps two cars. The team’s other car is driven by Austin Dillon, Ty’s brother. The team is owned, of course, by Childress — Ty and Austin’s grandfather. It almost feels too perfect of a scenario to just line Ty up to replace Reddick a year and a half from now, maybe throwing him back in an Xfinity car with the team to bridge the gap year. But it’s a possibility that the 30-year-old Welcome, North Carolina, native has certainly entertained.

“Obviously, I‘ve always wanted to race for my grandfather since I started racing,” said Dillon, currently 27th in points. “So that’s certainly something I’ll be looking at. But you know, there’s a lot of things to still happen throughout the year. And there’s lots going on with that situation. But I’m available. I’m available for everyone. So we’ll see what happens.”

To some degree, it has always felt inevitable Childress would eventually field Cup cars for his grandsons, it just hasn’t played out in that way to this point for various reasons. This might open the door to making it a reality, and if it does, Dillon would have had one of the most topsy-turvy, winding paths to a competitive premier series ride in recent memory.

Austin’s trajectory was extremely straightforward, starting his full-time NASCAR career with RCR in 2010 in the Camping World Truck Series, winning the title the next year, doing a similar two-year stint in the Xfinity Series — with another title in 2013 — before hopping in Earnhardt’s former No. 3 in 2014, where he has been since. Ty was on essentially the same path with two seasons in Trucks and three at the Xfinity level before starting full-time in Cup in 2017 with Germain Racing, where he was until 2020 before the team closed its doors. After Ryan Newman left the team in 2018 there was speculation Ty would replace him, but Ty elected to stay with Germain and the car — which was then the No. 31 Chevrolet — went instead to Daniel Hemric, who eventually ceded it to Reddick the next year.

Ty Dillon’s last two years then saw a handful of unfruitful starts with Cup startup Gaunt Brothers Racing, 12 Xfinity starts split across four different teams with just three top 10s and now an early ending to what seemed like, from the outside, a good long-term home for him with “The King” and Maury Gallagher’s operation.

“It’s certainly not easy (to maintain my determination), but I think as you grow and you mature, situations happen in your life,” Dillon told NASCAR.com. “At the end of the day, you have your family and the people that matter most and they believe in you. And if you don’t believe in yourself to begin with, you’ll never give yourself the full opportunity. So I’ll never give up on myself and knowing that I can do it. I’ve proven to myself that I can do it. Just a matter of situations coming together. And I think one thing about it, and it’s our family motto with my wife and kids, is that we’re Dillons and we don’t quit, so I can’t show them any quit in my life. And I can use whatever happens in my life, whatever comes and goes as an example for them to live off of in the future.”

As Dillon’s outlook at the moment is murky at best, Jones indicated Saturday he could be announcing a long-speculated extension with Petty GMS in the near term. The Byron, Michigan, native further negotiated his deal with Gallagher earlier this week over FaceTime — while in the “Great Lakes State” for his grandfather’s 90th birthday — and says the paperwork is down to just “pretty small details here at the end of the day” and is “for the next year at least, and hopefully more in the future, too.”

Ty Dillon and Erik Jones race on the track.
Ty Dillon and Erik Jones race on the track.

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Jones appears to have found a comfortability with Petty GMS, having the option at this juncture to speak to other teams but saying he’s not really interested in doing so and would rather just get everything settled with his extension. The feeling must be mutual, because the Chevy organization is seeking his feedback for who will be his future teammate, even if that decision is still a ways away.

“I don’t, right now (who will be in the 42),” Jones said. “You know, obviously, those talks go on a little bit. And, you know, as we’ve made this decision, you know, I get asked kind of who I think (it should be) a little bit right, which I appreciate that, you know, that they trust me to try to go pick somebody, which it’s still up to them at the end of the day. But obviously, there’s a few names out there that, you know, are probably deserving of a shot in the Cup Series. I don’t think it’ll be a guy (currently) in the Cup Series.”

As for what’s next for Dillon, well, he still has plans to finish out the season with Petty GMS. But in the meantime, he said “there’s been conversations starting” with other teams. There’s no question he still believes in himself and his ability, it’s just a matter now of if there’s a team out there that wants to take a flier on him.

“I have a lot of the year still left, we have 17 races or so to go to continue to show what I can do,” he said. “And a lot of things will still happen with other seats and other rides and the sport in general. So like I said, I’m a free agent, and I can talk to whoever and I’m available. So we’ll see how that plays out.

“I’m certainly never giving up on my dream. And that’s winning Cup races and championships, and I’m gonna do whatever it takes to get myself to that position with a team that really believes in me and wants to give me a good shot.”