Road to 1,000: JRM’s Journey Began with a Push from the Navy

Ron Lemasters | 7/6/2018

JRM1000 News XFINITY Series

We begin our Road to 1,000 with a look back at our first 250 Xfinity Series starts, which saw us blossom from an upstart into a weekly race-winning contender.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (July 6, 2018) – JR Motorsports began life as a racing team in 2002, with street stock cars at Concord (N.C.) Speedway. That might seem a small beginning, but great things often start small. Three years later, JR Motorsports made its debut in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

That jump into the NASCAR ocean might seem like a really quick one in level of difficulty, but remember who you’re talking about here. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller decided to go big at the end of the 2005 season, and with the help of the U.S. Navy, the new NXS team made its debut in the final race that year.

Mark McFarland was the driver, and the blue and gold U.S. Navy “Accelerate Your Life” colors were on the Chevrolet that began the 200-lap event from 18th place. McFarland, a Virginia driver, had all of nine NXS starts to his name when he strapped into the No. 88, but he drove a smart, steady race and finished 20th. Ryan Newman won that day, nipping Greg Biffle at the line by .137 seconds, with Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard rounding out the top five.

That first start was important, obviously, because it set the tone for a future that would produce two series titles (2014 and 2017), 40 victories and numerous awards.

Interestingly, McFarland and JR Motorsports finished first in class that day in Miami. The U.S. Navy machine won the recruiting battle in the race, finishing ahead of the U.S. Coast Guard (21st with Justin Labonte), the other U.S. Navy car (owner Terry Bradshaw and driver David Stremme in 32nd) and the U.S. Marines (43rd with Ashton Lewis up). The first purse check for JRM in NASCAR competition totaled $20,265.

In 2006, the one-race experiment was gone and in its place a full-time effort with McFarland, the Navy and crew chief Richard Hubbs, and it would begin where NASCAR seasons usually do: Daytona International Speedway. Stuff was about to get real.

Racing at Daytona in any capacity is a mind-blowing experience. The place reeks of historic moments and fantastic finishes. Team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew all about them, having won the Daytona 500 in 2004. For McFarland and Hubbs, it was a charge, no doubt, which resulted in a 22nd-place finish on the lead lap, and excitement was provided by a last-lap, coming-to-the-checkered moment in which 11 cars were tangled up. McFarland was not one of the 11, so it had to be a success for start No. 2.

The season went on with McFarland behind the wheel, and he earned the first top-10 finish for the team at Talladega. McFarland finished seventh that day in the team’s 11th start, and it looked like better times were just around the corner. Eight starts later, Martin Truex Jr. earned another top 10 for the team, posting an eighth-place effort at Daytona in July. Seven starts later (the 26th for the team), Truex was sixth at Watkins Glen for the team’s best finish to that point.

The next race out, at Michigan, Robby Gordon drove the U.S. Navy Chevrolet to a top-five finish, placing third in the 250-mile event and leading 11 laps in the process...the first laps led by JR Motorsports machinery in 27 career starts. McFarland ran 21 races that first season before giving way to Truex Jr., Gordon and Shane Huffman, who ran a second JRM car at the stand-alone event at Gateway in July (starts 23 and 24 for the team). McFarland ran one more race, at Lucas Oil Raceway (then known as O’Reilly Raceway Park) in Indianapolis and Huffman, who ran at Bristol in August, was installed as the full-time driver for the final eight races of the season. Huffman posted a fifth-place run at Memphis in that span. In 36 total starts, JRM logged a pair of top-five finishes and five top-10s, leading 28 laps.

As the 2007 season dawned, Huffman was in the car full-time with U.S. Navy backing. Start No. 50 for JRM came at, of all places, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Huffman qualified 23rd and finished 24th. Six starts later, Boss-Man Dale made his first start for the team, finishing 14th at Daytona in a car bearing U.S. Navy SEAL livery. It also spelled the end for Huffman as the full-time driver, who had logged a fifth-place run and four top-10s in his races that year. The week after Daytona, a young Michigan driver took over in the No. 88...Brad Keselowski.

Keselowski, who would go on to win the 2012 NASCAR Cup championship, represented the first major shift for JRM toward stardom, as he notched five top-10s over the remainder of the season. Andy Pilgrim, the British road racer, handled the two road courses, but Keselowski was just developing his hard-charging style in just 14 starts. It set the stage for 2008, and that would be a huge year in the development of the organization. It had already been a huge year for Earnhardt Jr., as he left DEI for Hendrick Motorsports. That would be another pivotal moment, as Hendrick drivers were able to race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series most weekends.

Running two cars for the entire season—three at some races—gave JRM a chance to add data to the package. At Las Vegas in the spring, Mark Martin drove the No. 5 Delphi Chevrolet to the first victory in JRM history, running as a team car to Keselowski. Martin led 81 laps that day on the way, and the team wasn’t done yet. Start No. 103 marked the team’s second victory, with Keselowski winning at Nashville Superspeedway for the U.S. Navy. That was huge, in the overall scheme of things, because it validated the Navy’s support of JRM and put Keselowski firmly on the path to becoming a star in the series...and beyond.

At Montreal, Canadian ace Ron Fellows earned win No. 3, taking sponsor GoDaddy.com to victory at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Seven starts later, Keselowski won again, this time at Bristol. Four victories in 72 starts was a blazing start for the still-fledgling team.

As thrilling as 2008 was for JRM, 2009 turned out to be even better. Keselowski won four races—at Dover, Michigan, Memphis and Iowa in its debut race—and the Navy sponsorship had been replaced with GoDaddy.com, Hellmann’s and other Unilever brands such as Klondike, Lipton Tea, Ragu and Degree V12, Fastenal and Delphi. New drivers joined the mix as well, including Scott Wimmer, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Richard Boswell.

It was Keselowski who garnered the lion’s share of the accolades that season, earning 22 top-five and 28 top-10 finishes on the way to a third-place finish in the series points. Earnhardt Jr. earned three top-five and four top-10 results in seven starts, while Fellows added a top-five and Newman, Martin and Wimmer had four top-10s among them in 58 total starts.

The following season, things changed a great deal at JRM, as Danica Patrick joined the team for a 13-race stint in her transition from Indy Car to NASCAR. With GoDaddy.com on the car, the green-and-black No. 7 became the “it” car every weekend she raced, drawing media attention and interest from across the planet. It also elevated JRM to top-tier status in terms of attention. Her best finish in those starts was 19th in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The rest of the season was split among 13 other drivers, including Aric Almirola, Steve Arpin, Kelly Bires, Cassill, Earnhardt Jr., Fellows, J.R. Fitzpatrick, Jamie McMurray, Coleman Pressley, Greg Sacks, Elliott Sadler (foreshadowing alert!), Wimmer and Josh Wise.

Fittingly, Patrick made the 250th start in JRM history, at Michigan, driving a Hot Wheels-sponsored Chevrolet.

Over its first 250 races, JRM earned eight victories and established itself as a player in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. As solid as the first 250 starts were, it gave hope for the future. We’ll take a look at starts 251-500 next week on the Road to 1000! Don’t forget, we have prize packages and cold, hard cash for you to win! Click here for the Road to 1,000 Giveaway and register now!

Articles

image

XFINITY Series Schedule

  • July 28 05:00 PM ET
    U.S. Cellular 250Iowa Speedway
  • August 4 03:30 PM ET
    Zippo 200Watkins Glen International
  • August 11 03:00 PM ET
    Mid-Ohio ChallengeMid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • August 17 07:30 PM ET
    Food City 300Bristol Motor Speedway
  • August 25 03:00 PM ET
    Road America 180Road America

XFINITY Series Standings

After Lakes Region 200

New Hampshire Motor Speedway | 7/21/2018
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Daniel Hemric6500
2Christopher Bell #644-6
3Elliott Sadler643-7
4Cole Custer637-13
5Justin Allgaier602-48
6Tyler Reddick #553-97
7Brandon Jones543-107
14Michael Annett343-307