MOORESVILLE, N.C. (May 11, 2017) – Despite the frustration of missing out on Victory Lane the past two weekends in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a lot of big-picture reasons to be positive about JR Motorsports’ prospects for success in 2017. Add the success of the JRM Late Model teams to that as well, and you have a pretty happy team owner.
During his eponymous Dirty Mo Radio podcast, The Dale Jr. Download, this week, Earnhardt Jr. and JRM’s Director of Motorsports L.W. Miller talked about how frustrating it was to see the NXS squad miss chances at victories at Richmond and Talladega.
“The last couple of weeks, our guys have been right in the middle of things, having a chance to win at the end of one of these races,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We’ve had some odd cautions that have bit us late in these races and cost us opportunities to win, and you get really upset and bent out of shape about that. I know I do. Then again, after a while you cool off and realize how thankful you ought to be that your team is good enough and competitive enough and they work so hard.
“We’ve had some seasons where it’s been a struggle to get to that competitiveness,” he continued. “[L.W. is] kind of the link between, the eyes and ears for Kelley, who basically runs the company and what’s going on down on the shop floor. You work hand in hand with Ryan Pemberton and those guys and help orchestrate ideas and directions that we go in. [Miller has] become a huge asset to our company. The last couple weeks have been kind of disappointing.”
Miller, a championship-winning NASCAR Modified driver in his own right, put it in perspective.
“Yeah, you hit it right on the head when you said you’re disappointed,” Miller said. “We were in the mix of trying to win races, and then we sit back and look at the big picture, we’re very disappointed the last two weeks, but we had a car that finished second in both those races. We finished second, won the Dash4Cash money with Justin two weeks ago and this past weekend Elliott Sadler was second at Talladega.
“You’re right, we’re in contention. The week before at Richmond, both Elliott and Justin were in contention, one of the two was going to win that race and then a caution comes out and changes the whole schematics of it. So we finished the day, Justin finishes second and wins the Dash4Cash, and typically you’d be elated with that, but we’re just so close to winning a lot of races and that’s the frustrating part of that. But by the same token, it’s great to see our cars running well.”
Miller pointed out that JRM cars are currently first (Sadler), second (Allgaier), third (William Byron) and sixth (Michael Annett) in the NASCAR Xfinity Series points, the first time in series history an organization has held the top three spots.
“For four full-time cars in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, that’s a pretty impressive stat as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I was so angry when the caution came out at Talladega. Maybe it was boring for the fans or not going to be the finish they wanted to see, but from a company standpoint, you’re looking at a storybook finish fixing to unfold with three of our cars in the top four, out there by themselves, going to race it out and more than likely they would have shuffled that other car out and we’re running 1-2-3. That would have been super for our company and our guys. That race gets over with and you’re so frustrated. Our guys were there, and it was a pretty good day. I guess we have to look at it big-picture.”
Considering that 2017 is the first season the company has run four full-time cars, Earnhardt Jr. said to be where they are in the points is a testament to hard work and preparation.
“The three teams we’ve run the last couple of years are 1-2-3 in the points, and Michael (Annett) has crept into the top six and he’s going to continue to build steam as that team gets a little stronger. It was a bit of a task to carry on a fourth team and we joke around with Michael and he has fun with it. To grow to that kind of size has been quite an achievement, to have all the teams running so well.”
On Saturday night at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, JRM’s Late Model team put on a show, and both Earnhardt Jr. and Miller were excited about it.
First-year driver Anthony Alfredo swept both ends of the CARS Late Model Stock Car Tour doubleheader on the historic layout in Hickory, earning his first checkered flags for JRM and in the CARS LMSC. Team leader Josh Berry, he of the 41 victories over his career with JRM, is usually the car to beat at Hickory, but an engine let go while Berry was out to a huge lead in the first 75-lapper. Alfredo stepped up and won that race after a battle with Austin McDaniel, while Berry and his crew were busy changing engines for the nightcap.
Alfredo won the second race in a similar fashion to the first, while Berry charged from 24th on the grid to a closing second at the flag. That put both Earnhardt Jr. and Miller in a great state of mind.
“That was a super way to cap off the day,” Miller said. “They give it their all. It’s not a job for those guys, it’s their life. When you see a guy pull in with an open trailer and a street stock on it, you think that he’s spent his week just as engulfed and serious about racing as the guys doing it in the Cup Series. Being a short-track racer my whole life, it’s what I love.”
Earnhardt Jr. said the Late Model team is the backbone of everything JRM does, and fills the same role for the sport.
“I really enjoy being able to see our cars run,” he said. “The Late Models are kind of the roots and core of racing and what we do. Everybody that is at a Late Model race, the drivers, the crews, most of those guys are volunteers. Everyone is there because they want to be there, they’re passionate about it, and that’s really where it all starts for everyone. Anyone who makes it in racing, that’s kind of where it all begins, at some level of racing like that. In North Carolina, the majority of it is going to be Late Model stocks on pavement, or some dirt racing here and there.
“That’s definitely something I enjoy being a part of, and knowing that we have cars that go run makes me feel good, because I feel like we’re covering the sport from one end to the other, from the Late Models to the Xfinity Series. It’s awesome for Anthony (Alfredo), and we’ve had a lot of success over the years. It’s great to have two cars that are really, really competitive. The CARS Tour is a great tour to be a part of, and we really enjoy running there. They run a really clean, professional series.”
Earnhardt Jr. might have somewhat of a personal interest in the continued success of the grassroots team.
“I’m hoping our cars remain competitive over the next couple of years because I might have to slip off and run a race,” he chuckled. “I think it would be fun to go back and get a reminder of what that style of racing is all about. It really was some of the most fun, enjoyable times of my career, how simple it was compared to today.”
Miller laughed out loud at that.
“I must have been asked 100 times when you’re going to come to Hickory and race,” he said. “Everybody wants to know when that is.”
To listen to click here: The Dale Jr. Download, or download it at iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher or most any other podcast provider.