INDIANAPOLIS — Ed Jones is back with Dale Coyne Racing. While that may be a shock to some, when you listen to Jones talk during his media zoom availability on Wednesday morning, you’d see that Jones being a full time driver in the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series isn’t that far off as once thought.
Jones, 25, made that perfectly clear from the get go this morning. He actually had a ride lined up last year in fact. He was supposed to race in 2020 but that pesky pandemic came around, you know.
“2020 was different for everyone,” Jones said during his opening remarks. “Unfortunately the ride that I had fell through with COVID there.”
Strong wording right off the bat. He was going to be here a year ago. But, the time off also gave him some time to reflect a year ago and figure out what he wanted to do for 2021 instead.
“It was a different year for me a year where I didn’t do very much driving,” Jones continued. “One side of that was a negative, on the other it was a good time to reflect on things, get recharged.”
So, how did we get back here today? Many were shocked to even find out that Jones was in the running to land another ride in the series. He last raced in the 2019 season finale as he did 13 races with Ed Carpenter Racing that year.
I think many figured he’d go back overseas and race cars over there. No one knew how close he really was to racing here in 2020 which is why him being back in 2021 was so shocking. That’s also why to him that it’s not all that surprising for him to land one of the few open Indy Car seats left with the team that some think he spurned. More on that last part later.
So, how did this come about?
Coyne, has always held Jones in a high regard anyways. Jones, finished third as a rookie for them in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 and if not for Fernando Alonso being in the field, he was going to be Rookie of the Year instead of the Spaniard. Also, in his first 10 starts to his rookie year, half of them saw him land in the top 10.
DCR wanted Jones to comeback for 2018. Jones wanted to return too. But, when Chip Ganassi Racing let Tony Kanaan go and found out Jones only had a handshake deal with Coyne and nothing officially signed with them, they courted Jones as Kanaan’s replacement.
While it’s never good for someone to go against their word or back out on a handshake agreement, both sides knew that driving for Ganassi in an INDYCAR is a job you don’t turn down.
“I mean, we lost Ed to Ganassi. Last year we lost Alex to Ganassi. That’s not a bad thing,” Dale Coyne said of the situation. “That’s a good thing. People come to our team and want to prove themselves. Obviously everybody wants to drive for Penske or Ganassi. If they can do a nice job with us and move up, that’s good for us. That’s not bad for us. That’s good for us.
“We understood what he did, why he did it. It’s business. Like I say, we did remain friends through all that.”
So, off Jones went. But, the relationship with Coyne never waned. They didn’t end on bad terms. Jones, said that he and Dale Coyne have actually never stopped talking since he left the team for Chip Ganassi Racing in October 2017. The talks remained even if from the outside it seemed otherwise.
“I’ve always kept in contact with Dale,” Jones continued. “I’ve been fortunate where I have a good relationship with pretty much everyone in the paddock, and I’m able to talk to people quite often.
“After the year out, I knew I really wanted to be back in INDYCAR. I was talking to Dale, seeing what we could figure out. Things took quite a bit of time. It all came through in the end. That’s what’s important.”
Coyne, is beyond excited to get Jones back again. This is like a kid coming home in his eyes.
“We’re very happy to have Ed back,” said Coyne. “Ed is a great friend of the team. My wife, myself, we all get along really well. So we’re very happy to have him back.”
Coyne, singled out that 2017 ‘500 to which he thinks Jones could have actually won the race in the end if not for some damage that occurred at some point during the race. It was remarkable that he even finished third he said.
“We were happy with him a couple years ago when he drove for us,” Coyne continued. “He didn’t put an asterisk by that third at Indy. He had a hole in the nose of his car. He touched somebody’s gearbox, put a hole in the nose of his car. We couldn’t figure out why he was so quick in the corners and slow in the straights. It turned out it was a drag penalty for that hole, otherwise he might have been two positions higher, which really would have been something.”
Jones’ time with Ganassi was short lived. He had a similar year in 2018 to what Kanaan had in 2017 and as quickly as he came, out he went. That’s how he ended up ECR in 2019 with a goal of being back in the series for 2020.
It just took an extra year but they reunite with some “unfinished business.” All parties, even the Vasser-Sullivan partnership feel like 2021 should be a good year for them in fact.
“As I told Ed when we were talking about all this, we both have unfinished business,” Coyne said. “We’re very much looking forward to a competitive year.”
Jimmy Vasser agreed. He singled out now only the Indy 500 as to where he’s excited to see Jones with them in, but also just how consistent Jones runs up front.
14 of his 47 starts have seen him finish in a top 10. That has Vasser confident that they can give him a car each race of doing just that.
“He’s going to jump back where he left off with his consistency,” Vasser said. “You look at his numbers, 30% of his INDYCAR starts have been in the top 10. So he’s a finisher, and he’s consistent.
“I think also he gives us a chance to fight for the Indy 500. Three starts, third and a sixth. In my opinion, should have been Rookie of the Year at the 500, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.”
Coyne is also excited and energized for the 500, what Jones can bring.
“Again, just echo what I said about his consistency,” Coyne continued. “I can tell you all our stakeholders and partners are really stoked to have Ed coming onboard. This is going to be good.
“I think Santino was a very good racer on the ovals, maybe not as good a qualifier. I think Ed is the same way. I think Ed is a very good racer on the ovals.
“We have worked very hard on our 500 cars every year. We’ve arguably been the fastest Honda the last four years, given a couple situations here or there. I think we’ve got a good car for Indy. Ed showed he can qualify well with Carpenter there and race well. I think Indy, very much looking forward to Indianapolis.”
Jones, agrees with the assessment as he says that he has always been strong on ovals, short ovals especially.
“To be honest, if I could race INDYCAR ovals every weekend, that would be my dream thing (smiling),” Jones joked. “It’s something which I love to do.”
He also loves the consistency factor but for the reasons as his bosses. He loves that he gets to come back to a familiar team again. See, Jones has been in the series three years before 2021, two of which were full time, and all have been with different teams. Now, he’s back with a past team again where he will know people already there.
“Although I had two full seasons in INDYCAR, it was with different teams every year,” said Jones. “It’s always hard to keep some consistency there. So it’s really nice to go back to Dale. As I said, I’m familiar with the team and all the guys there. It should help a lot getting back into things. I’ve already been in contact with everyone. I’m just really looking forward to that.
“It’s a different dynamic to what I’ve had in the past, as I said. Changing teams every year hasn’t been ideal, something which I think should be positive going forward.”
As far as who Jones’ teammate will be, Coyne says that he hopes to announce that next week. Is there a potential to be Romain Grosjean?
“You all could make a list of a hundred drivers, we’ve talked to probably every one of them this winter,” Coyne said of Grosjean for the second car. “Employed, unemployed, America, Europe, every country. It’s been kind of amazing.
“Obviously Romain is a good driver. We’d love to have him. We’re working on a few other ones as well. Hopefully we get all that buttoned up and make an announcement next week and then get out to testing in February.”
We know Rick Ware Racing has a car and they paired with Coyne in last year’s Indy 500. Is this second car going to end up being DCR’s second ride? If so, Pietro Fittipaldi is the favorite to land that seat. If that’s a separate entity, then the second car more than likely will either be another full time driver or a turnstile car with Grosjean and others filling in time.
Grosjean, has no interest in the ovals, so if he does race in that second car, then four races are available for the taking.