Two-time championship crew chief Rickie Jones leaves Elite Motorsports

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Less than a week after announcing it would end its one-year partnership with Mopar/Dodge, Elite Motorsports will end another partnership, as well.

Crew chief Rickie Jones, who led Elite and drive Erica Enders to the NHRA Pro Stock championships in 2014 and 2015, will step back from his role in 2017.

Jones said the reason is to spend more time with his family.

“My wife Sarah and I want to start a family and have children,” the 29-year-old Rickie Jones said in a media release. “That’s harder to do when you’re gone as much as this series demands.

“I’ve been blessed way beyond my wildest dreams to work with Erica and (team owner) Richard Freeman and the entire Elite team, and I’ll still do that to a degree. But family comes first, and I look forward to spending a lot more time with Sarah as we start this new chapter in our lives.”

The younger Jones was a pivotal component in Enders’ combined 15 wins in 2014 (six) and 2015 (nine). Unfortunately, a switch to Dodge/Mopar in 2016 did not yield similar results; in fact, Enders and teammate and five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. failed to win even one race.

Jones’ father, crew chief and chassis builder Rick Jones, will remain with the team in 2017.

The younger Jones may be leaving Elite Motorsports as a crew chief, but he’ll still be involved, working at RJ Race Cars and Quarter-Max Chassis and Racing Components in Galesburg, Ill., the companies he and his father own.

RJ Race Cars builds the race cars Elite Motorsports uses in NHRA, as well as several other cars for a variety of customers. Jones also pointed to a recent surge in demand for Street Rods and other custom work.

“Rickie has been an invaluable member of Elite Motorsports for many years, and we fully support his decision,” Freeman said. “Elite Motorsports isn’t just a race team, it’s a family, and Rickie and Sarah are a part of that family. We all wish him nothing but the best.”

Freeman said there are no plans to replace the younger Jones. Existing crew chiefs Rick Jones, Mark Ingersoll and Brian “Lump” Self will lead the three-car team in 2017.

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.