Legacy Motor Club and Erik Jones hit all-time lows in what wound up being an excruciating 2023 campaign in the NASCAR Cup Series. However, there’s a growing sense of optimism the pair can restore some semblance of former glory with an unlikely reunion for the upcoming season.
Following a surprisingly successful year, in which Jones accumulated 13 top-10 finishes – highlighted by his spoiler victory in the Playoffs – under the maiden season of the Next Gen car, he and his No. 43 team were unable to properly adapt to the ever-changing nuances of the vehicle in its sophomore slog.
While Jones categorized both his seasons under the seventh-generation car as “up-and-down,” he felt this year was more “wavy” in a sense of less consistency with more adversities. The 27-year-old believes after scoring his third Cup win the season prior, he and the team fell behind, which compounded into 2023.
Jones’ seventh full-time outing statistically marked his worst after finishing a career-low 27th in the driver standings with a 20.4 average and just seven top-10s on the year.
“I would say the success level of the year probably wasn’t where we wanted it to have been to be 100% honest,” Jones said. “We went to victory lane last year. We were in a way better position in points last year.
“We just didn’t have all the tools we needed to really improve to get to where we wanted to be. So it’s been a challenging year in some ways (but) I think we’ve grown a lot, which has been good.”
After it was announced at the end of 2022 that seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson would be taking on an ownership role for the newly-branded Legacy M.C. (formerly Petty GMS Motorsports), there was finally a positive buzz surrounding the middle-of-the-pack organization.
On top of Johnson jumping on board, they signed fan favorite Noah Gragson to compete for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, locked down big-name sponsors such as Guns N’ Roses and Wendy’s for the Daytona 500 and brought in new personnel to help take the team to new heights.
Then, the season started.
Bad results became a weekly occurrence, the No. 42 was a revolving door of drivers after Gragson abruptly left the organization midseason, and it felt like anything that could go wrong did for Legacy.
“Within the team, we hired a huge group of people coming in on the engineering side trying to kind of grow that area, become a bit more self-sufficient in the reporting we do and the simulation and the testing and the building we do,” Jones said.
“It hasn’t all really shown yet. These guys next year are going to be getting some really good information – some really good puzzle pieces – to help them out to build. I’m excited for that part next year.”
At its core, it seems like most of the negativity from 2023 stemmed from an identity crisis brought on by too many visceral (and some completely unexpected) changes. But brighter days must be ahead for Jones and the beat-down organization, as a major move has been made to implement a fresh start.
After three seasons, Legacy Motor Club is ditching the bowties and switching to Toyota – the team’s fourth different manufacturer in 15 years.
While last season may have shown too much change can be a bad thing, this could be exactly what Jones and the team need to rewrite the narrative in the near future.
Ten years ago, Jones was signed as a Toyota Racing Development driver, where he started his rise through the ranks racing for Venturini Motorsports in the ARCA Menards Series. From there, he would ascend through NASCAR’s developmental series exclusively under the Toyota banner by winning races and a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship in 2015.
Before joining Legacy M.C. in 2021, Jones made his Cup debut driving for Joe Gibbs Racing – a place he’d call home for three seasons – after his first full-time campaign driving for Furniture Row Racing in 2017.
“I was with Toyota for a long time before I came over here to Chevrolet in the last three years,” Jones said. “We’ve had a great three years, but overall I think there was a time for a change. We were ready to kind of take a step in performance that we weren’t really going to be able to find where we were. Toyota was looking to expand and grow their group and they have some great resources and options for us.”
For Jones, Toyota has been there through it all.
In addition to winning his first title in 2015, the Michigan-born driver racked up 16 NASCAR developmental series wins for Toyota before making the jump to Cup. From there, he scored two poles, two wins and 62 top-10s in 147 starts between Furniture Row and JGR.
Most impressively, when Jones won his first Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in 2018, he became the first Toyota Racing Development product to win in all three NASCAR national touring series.
After totaling just one win and 26 top-10s in 108 starts with Chevrolet and Legacy M.C., to say a reunion with Toyota would be welcomed for Jones could be a massive understatement.
“I’m excited to kind of get back with the guys I started with,” Jones said. “A lot of them are still there on the competition side and running that. But I’m excited really just for these guys to get the resources they’re going to provide. It’s going to be huge for them just trying to put together a better piece each week and have a better sense of what we’re doing each week at the track.”
Although it’s difficult to get caught up in the performance upswing of third-year team 23XI Racing, it’s more reasonable to expect a gradual climb over the span of a few years – like the aforementioned organization co-owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.
Another thing 23XI had going for them was their alliance with industry powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing. As Jones states, Legacy M.C. will not have that luxury in 2024, but they will have an abundance of resources at their disposal as they become just the third team to field Toyotas this upcoming season.
However, there may not have been a better time for Legacy Motor Club to make the switch. It was revealed on November 27 the manufacturer would be debuting a brand-new body for 2024 in the form of the Toyota Camry XSE in the Cup Series.
Whereas Legacy M.C. would’ve had to go through the motions of acclimating to life beyond Chevrolet alone, they’re now more or less on the same page as JGR and 23XI with the introduction of the fresh design.
“I think there will be somewhat of a learning curve,” Jones said. “We’re getting some great information, but at the end of the day, we aren’t going into an alliance with anybody. We don’t have an alliance with JGR (or) 23XI. We’ll be on our own.
“We’re going to be getting the same resources and things as them, but we’re going to have to take and build those into what we want and figure out how to make them competitive. We haven’t gotten the chance yet to work with Toyota, so we don’t know exactly how that’s all going to fit together and what we’re going to get.”
Luckily for Jones, he and Championship 4 contender Christopher Bell will be among the first to test the Toyota Camry XSE during a two-day test at Phoenix Raceway beginning on December 5 to help improve the short-track package.
Aside from a long and successful relationship with Toyota in the past, Jones and his No. 43 team also got a feel for Legacy Motor Club’s complexion under new leadership and have gone through the tribulations of adapting to the seventh-generation car on limited resources – all of which should accumulate to a much better showing in 2024 and beyond.
“, things weren’t necessarily easy, but the performance was better through most of the year,” Jones said. “That makes things a little bit simpler and more straightforward. It’s been a big building year in the sense that we’re trying to kind of set our footing and our groundwork for the next three, four, five years after this season.
“Overall, I think it’s going to bode well for us going forward and what we can build.”