CONCORD Much like its namesake co-owner, JR Motorsports is coming of age.
JR Motorsports was established in 1999 as the management company for NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
By 2006, JRM began fielding cars in the Nationwide Series. While the organization has enjoyed success over the years, much of it has been dependent on Earnhardt’s participation, from driving JRM cars to helping secure sponsors.
Today, JRM is in position to win its first NASCAR championship.
The organization, based in Mooresville, has gone through some growing pains, much like Earnhardt has in his career.
“I used to have to bring up how JR Motorsports was doing, used to now get too many questions about it and really had to promote it myself,” said Earnhardt.
“The fact that we are relevant in the series and we’re considered competitive and considered one of the teams that is going to be up (front) each week, I think that says a lot.”
Much of the noise this season has come from driver Regan Smith and his crew chief, Greg Ives.
Entering Saturday’s History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Smith holds a 28th-point advantage over Sam Hornish Jr.
Smith and Hornish are the only drivers to lead the series standings so far this season. Elliott Sadler is 42 points behind Smith.
“It’s a good feeling to be leading the points, but to that point, we still want to be improving,” Smith said.
“Right now, we’re in a solid position because everyone is chasing us and it’s almost like you have a bit more control when you’re leading the points.
“But we’re still not satisfied.”
Smith’s victory at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway earlier this month – his second with JRM since last fall – moved a JRM team into the Nationwide Series points lead for the first time.
Brad Keselowski, now the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion, finished as high as third in points while running at JRM in 2008 and 2009 but never topped the standings.
“I was a little surprised it was our first time leading,” said JRM vice president Kelley Earnhardt Miller, Dale’s sister and co-owner.
“You don’t really think about it when you don’t win (the championship). You don’t really think about whether you led during the year.”
Still, Earnhardt Miller said the milestone did not go unnoticed at the office. She said it gives the team satisfaction.
“At times, I want to pinch myself to think we are in position to win. There is a lengthy year ahead of us, but if we keep doing what we’re doing there is no doubt we can contend for the championship,” she said.
“When we talked last year with Regan about driving for us, that’s what we said, that we would have the chance to win this championship.
“Right now, we’re as good as anybody out there.”
Smith wasn’t the only new face heading into this season.
In the span of two weeks last September, Tony Eury Jr., Earnhardt’s cousin, and Tony Eury Sr., Earnhardt’s uncle, both left their respective longtime roles with the JRM organization.
Earnhardt Miller said the change was necessary to continue to make the best use of JRM’s relationship with Hendrick Motorsports. JRM receives engine, chassis and vehicle engineering support from HMS.
“Every single piece of a race team has to be working together and moving forward to be successful,” she said. “If you have one piece of it upsetting the apple cart, you can’t do your best.”
Smith, who was fired from his Cup ride at Furniture Row Racing, filled in for Earnhardt last fall in the Cup series when Earnhardt sat out two races due to lingering effects from a concussion.
That led to Smith’s full-time Nationwide gig. JRM also hired Ives, who worked as an engineer during Jimmie Johnson’s five-year run as Cup champion.
“I told Regan we were going to put him in position with cars and people to have a shot at winning the championship,” Earnhardt said. “I think we are a contender.”