Erik Jones confident about return to No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry

JOLIET, ILLINOIS - JUNE 29: Erik Jones, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, sits in his car during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 29, 2019 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

For fans who have adorned any parts of their bodies with No. 20 Erik Jones “tats,” you can relax.

On Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Jones exuded confidence that he will return to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota next season.

“I wouldn’t be worried about covering it up, no,” Jones said of those who’ve gotten “inked” in his honor. “We’re very close (to a contract), and I hope we can put something out soon to make it official.”

Jones was at Bristol on Thursday to prepare for a rare appearance in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Driving the No. 81 JGR Supra, he topped the speed chart in final practice for Friday’s Food City 300 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Before Thursday’s news that Matt DiBenedetto would not be returning to Leavine Family Racing next year, speculation had been rife that Jones might be replaced by prolific Xfinity Series winner Christopher Bell.

Now it seems far more likely that Bell will take the seat in the No. 95 Leavine Toyota.

“I was very comfortable and knew the situation and knew where things were headed,” Jones said on Thursday. “We all had a good plan, and I was going to continue to work toward being in the No. 20 car. It never bothered me. I understand why (the speculation arose).

“I’m a pretty straight-up guy. If I felt I wasn’t going to be back in it, I would have definitely trended more in that way. I probably would have alluded to the fact that I wouldn’t be back. I was always confident that I would be back and still feel that way.

“I’ve kept saying ‘We’re getting there,’ ‘We’re getting there,’ and now it’s all but done.”

In the last five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, Jones has risen from 18th to 14th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings and appears likely to qualify for the series Playoffs three races from now.

“I think it’s definitely helped,” Jones said of his recent performance. “You want to run well. You want to run up front. I feel like over the last two months we’ve kind of shown we belong there.

Greg Engle