Toyota executive keen on keeping young Cup drivers

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The president of Toyota Racing Development said Wednesday that “our desire” is to have both Erik Jones and Christopher Bell race for the manufacturer beyond this season but said “how we do it is yet to be determined.”

Jones’ one-year contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing expires after this season. Bell, a rookie for Leavine Family Racing, is in the first year of a multiyear contract. But Bell’s car owner, Bob Leavine, told The Athletic last month that “I’m walking that tightrope” to keep the team running beyond this season because of the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

David Wilson, president of TRD, addressed both drivers’ status with Toyota beyond this year in a video conference with reporters Wednesday.

“We all know that Erik is at the end of his current contract,” Wilson said. “What’s the plan there? We don’t know. We’re working on that. (Car owner Joe Gibbs) and I are talking about that now every week. Our desire obviously is to keep both of those young men in our company. How we do it is yet to be determined.”

The 24-year-old Jones enters Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway 18th in points for Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones has placed 20th or worse in each of the last three Cup races.

He was running seventh last weekend at Miami when he hit the wall and cut a tire with less than 10 laps left, finishing 21st. The weekend before, Jones had a flat tire and later was caught speeding on pit road within the last 125 laps at Atlanta, leading to a 28th-place finish.

Bell, 25, enters Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway 24th in points. He started the season with five consecutive finishes outside the top 20, dropping him to 32nd in the points. He’s finished 11th or better in four of the seven races since.

Wilson was asked about Leavine Family Racing’s performance this season.

“The 95 is candidly a little more disappointing and there’s circumstances behind that,” Wilson said. “I think Christopher’s raw speed has actually been quite good. A couple of races, he started the third stage inside the top 10 and he had a 14-second pit stop and loses nine to 10 spots. That’s happened twice already. … I think Christopher could have won (at Bristol) had he not had to restart whatever that was 18th (after his final pit stop) and he still drove up to the top 10. That’s cause for optimism. If we collectively can eliminate the easy things like execution on pit lane and such, I think we’ll see more consistency and more top 15s and more top 10s out of Christopher.”