Kasey Kahne's victory last week in the Subway Firecracker 250 gave JR Motorsports six victories in the Nationwide Series this season. (Jerry Markland / Getty Images)
Charlotte, N.C. — Just four years ago, JR Motorsports shuffled 10 drivers through its No. 88 Chevrolet. The organization won just one Nationwide Series race and followed that with a winless 2011 season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew something had to change with his team.
The overhaul began in 2012, mostly behind the scenes. There were hirings and firings — Earnhardt had to let go his uncle and his cousin — and JRM finally began to utilize its resources at Hendrick Motorsports. Tough decisions were made, but the result is that JRM is now a Nationwide Series powerhouse.
JR Motorsports heads into Saturday’s race at New Hampshire coming off back-to-back wins: Kevin Harvick at Kentucky and Kasey Kahne at Daytona. JRM has an organization-best six wins this season, and Regan Smith’s second-place finish last week to Kahne moved him back into the Nationwide Series points lead. Chase Elliott is third in the standings.
The difference, Earnhardt said, is Hendrick Motorsports.
“The line of communication to HMS is so important, and we just let that deteriorate over the years to where there was no back and forth and no interest,” Earnhardt said. “We weren’t an asset to them, we weren’t doing anything to help them, we couldn’t communicate back and forth. The people we’ve got now really have that line of communication pulling back and forth to where we obviously get a ton from it.”
Earnhardt credits JRM additions Ryan Pemberton and Greg Ives. Pemberton went to JRM in late 2012 as competition director, and Ives, race engineer at Hendrick for five of Jimmie Johnson’s championships, joined in 2013 as crew chief for Smith. The result was two wins for Smith, who finished third in the final standings.
This season, Pemberton is still competition director and Smith’s crew chief. Ives is now crew chief for rookie Elliott, who has two wins and is 15 points out of the lead.
“The best part about it, I guess, is people,” Earnhardt said. “We’re grooming guys that HMS has high interest in, that they are recruiting through their ranks. It’s a system that is really profitable for both companies, just moving people around and getting people experience in the right spots, without having them leave.”
Earnhardt often gets all the glory for a team that is also owned by his sister, Kelley, and Rick Hendrick. He doesn’t want his sister overlooked for her role in rebuilding the organization, which had nine total wins before Pemberton came aboard and has nine victories since.
“She really is the one pulling the levers and steering the ship and making the major decisions that really affect the company as a whole,” he said. “She doesn’t talk about nuts and bolts, but she’s definitely involved in personnel, personalities, who would work well where, what people’s responsibilities should be.”
Better short than never
Aric Almirola says he’s making no apologies for gaining his first career Sprint Cup Series victory in a rain-shortened race.
Almirola put the famed No. 43 car of Richard Petty Motorsports in Victory Lane Sunday in the delayed, and then rain-shortened race at Daytona International Speedway.
It was the first victory in 544 races for the car Petty made famous. John Andretti won at Martinsville in 1999.
Almirola has spent two days doing a tire test at Richmond International Raceway.
He says he would feel bad if he’d been running in the back of the pack and stole the win. But he says he was already in front of the field when the rain came and could have won with or without the last thunderstorm.